VPL Research

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VPL Research was one of the first companies that developed and sold virtual reality products. It was founded by computer scientist Jaron Lanier in 1984.[1] "VPL" stood for "Virtual Programming Languages".[2] In 1990, VPL Research filed for bankruptcy and in 1999 all of its patents were bought by Sun Microsystems.[3]

Products[edit]

A VPL Research DataSuit, a full-body outfit with sensors for measuring the movement of arms, legs, and trunk. Developed circa 1989. Displayed at the Nissho Iwai showroom in Tokyo

The DataGlove[edit]

This device originally started as an input system for computers. It was later used for virtual reality systems. Thomas Zimmerman invented the prototype of the DataGlove and began looking for other people to help work on it. The device was using 6502 microcontrollers. Zimmerman met Mitch Altman and asked him to join VPL part-time because Altman knew how to program the microcontrollers.[4]

The system was wired to a computer. It was interactive and contained fiber-optic bundles to track movements and orientation. That data would then be transmitted to the computer so that the information could be duplicated virtually. It allowed for people to manipulate and re-orient virtual objects. Applications for this wearable device centered on input computer control, gaming, and also the potential for remote surgery.

The EyePhone[edit]

This was a head mounted display (HMD) that was meant to immerse users into a computer simulation. It could track head movements. The headset used Fresnel lenses.[5]

The DataSuit[edit]

The DataSuit was a full-body outfit with sensors for measuring the movement of arms, legs, and trunk.

Team members[edit]

R&D team
  • Jaron Lanier
  • Mitch Altman
  • Thomas Zimmerman
  • Chuck Blanchard
  • Steve Bryson
  • Young Harvill – In his spare time, Harvill created a program called Swivel 3D which was used for creating computer art. It gave the users the ability to generate virtual worlds on a Macintosh computer. He licensed that software to VPL. Shortly after, Harvill joined VPL as their fourth employee in 1985. During his time there, he worked on a project called "Reality Built for Two (RB2)" which was the first VR system at that time. He also helped with the Data Glove as well.[6]
  • Jeff Wright – Worked with Lanier and Blanchard on the Embrace visual programing language from 1988 to 1991. In his Dec. 1989 Computer Graphics World article "Altered States: a software developer's vision of the future of virtual reality" he asked, "What would it mean for people to be able to choose and create their own reality?" speculating that it would "... make people aware of the fact that they already do that, whether or not they realize it, in the natural construction of ordinary reality."[7]
  • David Levitt
  • Marc deGroot
  • Mark Oberman
Management
  • Jaron Lanier
  • Jean-Jacques Grimaud - Co-founder, President, VP of Engineering[8]
Associated people
  • Timothy Leary – When Leary got out of jail, he was interested in finding legal ways to explore consciousness which led him to working with individuals at VPL.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Data Suit and EyePhone were featured in the 1992 science fiction film The Lawnmower Man.
  • Based on VPL's $10,000 Data Glove, Mattel rushed its $90 Power Glove to market, becoming "one of the hottest gift items of the 1989 holiday season" and selling 1.3 million worldwide, but disappointed buyers with its lack of functionality in video games for the Nintendo Entertainment System.[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "VPL Research | C-SPAN.org". www.c-span.org. Retrieved 2021-01-22.
  2. ^ Rethinking the virtual, Nicholas C. Burbules, The International Handbook of Virtual Learning Environments, pp. 37-58, https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4020-3803-7_1
  3. ^ "Sun Snaps Up Original VR Patents". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2021-01-22.
  4. ^ Altman, Mitch. An Interview with Mitch Altman (Inventor and Virtual Reality Pioneer from the 80's). Terndrup, Matthew.
  5. ^ Delaney, Ben. Sex, Drugs and Tessellation: The Truth About Virtual Reality, as Revealed in the Pages of CyberEdge Journal. p. 274. ISBN 978-1500893293.
  6. ^ "Techie Entrepreneurs – Young Harvill". Evergreen Magazine. 2015-06-17.
  7. ^ "Altered States: a software developer's vision of the future of virtual reality". Computer Graphics World. ISSN 0271-4159. Retrieved 2020-06-15.
  8. ^ "Jean-Jacques Linkedin Profile Page".
  9. ^ Altman, Mitch. An Interview with Mitch Altman (Inventor and Virtual Reality Pioneer from the 80's). Terndrup, Matthew.
  10. ^ "An Oral History of Nintendo's Power Glove". Mental Floss – online magazine. 2017-02-22.