In 1992, a couple of years before the Web started to gain traction, Virtual Reality was the new hotness.
I was a second year Engineering student, and encouraged the head of one of the research groups on campus to allow me and two fellow students to work on a VR project over the summer break for credit.
We improvised a poor-man’s VR helmet (a stack-hat) with a poor man’s stereoscopic HUD (two video camera viewfinders) and poor-man’s motion tracking (two POTs on the helmet for 2 DOF head tracking, and a Nintendo Power Glove). All of this was driven by two Amiga 500 computers, one for each eye, using custom software written in AMOS and AMOS 3D. One of the most challenging parts of the project was synchronising the displays via a null-modem link, and reading the POTs, which had to be timed off the vertical scan (something arcane like waiting until the electron beam of the display reached the 7th line, and then reading some register or other before it reached the 12th line).
We were excited, but, in truth, the project sucked balls.
While working on that project, we became involved with the Perth Virtual Reality Interest Group, which held meetings in Tech Park (Enterprise Building 3, funnily enough, where I returned 15 years later – ack – to work at Interzone). The SIG organised a special, private viewing of the Virtuality Arcade Machine (which also used the Amiga computer) when it made a brief appearance in the Perth Myer store.
I remember being very excited by the potential of VR at the time, in part due to a documentary that aired on TV that featured Marvin Minsky, Jaron Lanier, William Gibson and Tomothy Leary. It’s funny and embarrassing in hindsight, but it was a strange time, with people absolutely convinced that VR would be the future of entertainment, medical imaging and stock market manipulation.
I wonder what the modern equivalent of VR is? Social gaming, perhaps?