VR / AR: Pioneering Research Papers in 3D Virtual Environments
Posted on 2010-10-09 @ 00:27:13 by r00t

For a recent posting I wrote to a fellow member on the Arduino forums, I spent an hour or more tracking down a few historical papers on the technology of Virtual/Augmented Reality. My interest in these papers was mainly that of an amateur historical archivist; I had an idea that they existed, but in the past I wasn't able to successfully locate them. Either I became better at searching, or Google expanded its index; I greatly suspect the latter, actually...

Historically, many different methods and processes have been attempted to more fully immerse an individual viewer into an artificial "landscape"; in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, stereoscopes, Dioramas, and Cycloramas were popular entertainments. Later efforts included improved motion picture projection technologies for larger (and curved) screens, as well as various methods of projecting 3D images for the audience.

It wouldn't be until 1957 that an inventor would come along to redefine the "immersive experience"; that inventor was Morton Heilig, who came up with an entertainment device called the SENSORAMA, intended for a single person to use (he also devised a similar system for audience viewing as well, called the Experience Theater). However, while one could argue that Morton Heilig is the "true father" of VR/AR, his devices were mainly designed for entertainment purposes only, and relied on motion picture technology.

It would take a different person to explore the possibilities of computer-generated 3D environments: A man by the name of Ivan Sutherland. I wrote a little piece on his acheivements for a FAQ article here on

The papers I have collected (download them from the list below) include:

The first short paper by Sutherland, "The Ultimate Display", introduces the base concepts and ideas around the hardware and software interfaces needed for VR/AR, as well as some inkling of what might be possible with such a system. This paper is also seminal in the fact that it arguably introduced the concept of the Star Trek Holodeck, one year before ST:TOS was first broadcast in 1966!

The second paper (of which I have included two different examples - one is a scan of the original paper, the second is that of a cleaned up version, which strangely has poorer copies of the various diagrams and photos from the original), "A Head-Mounted Three-Dimensional Display", introduces the first concept of a fully-tracked 6DOF VR/AR HMD - in 1968. While there had been other instances of HMDs (notably a telepresence version created in 1961 by Philco), the Sword of Damocles (as Sutherland's HMD system was dubbed) was the first attempt at using a computer to generate 3D output that could be overlayed onto the real world, or be a representation of an artificial world alone.

The final paper, "Twinkle Box - A three-dimensional computer input device", was introduced in 1974 and co-written by Robert P. Burton and Ivan E. Sutherland. This paper describes a novel method of determining the 3D position of an object using an optical-electro-mechanical scanning and processing system. Such a system seems to have been chosen due to the need for speed of such a system, and the relative processing slowness of the computers being used at the time.

Although at the time these papers were written, the terms "Virtual Reality" and "Augmented Reality" didn't exist, they did have an impact on the future direction of such technology. By preserving them here, I hope to give others a chance to download and view them, and marvel at the cunning and ingenuity of these men. In addition, I feel that these papers may also allow for some insights into how to solve such problems in a similar manner, perhaps updated to reflect today's better technologies.


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a_head_mounted_three_dimensional_display.pdfA Head-Mounted Three-Dimensional Display by Ivan E. Sutherland (1968) - New 179.65 Kb
Suth1965.pdfThe Ultimate Display by Ivan E. Sutherland (1965) 27.97 Kb
sutherland-headmount.pdfA Head-Mounted Three-Dimensional Display by Ivan E. Sutherland (1968) - Original 8716.09 Kb
twinkle_box.pdfTwinkle Box - A three-dimensional computer input device by Robert P. Burton and Ivan E. Sutherland (1974) 729.76 Kb
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