Meet the Sword of Damocles, the First VR Headset in the World

sword of damocles
Source: ResearchGate

Many VR enthusiasts as well as those who have yet to spend any significant amount of time in virtual reality believe that the the Oculus Rift CV1 (released in 2016), also known as simply the Oculus Rift, was the first VR headset in the world, but that’s not the case at all.

The device that’s widely considered to be the first virtual reality head-mounted display in the world was actually created in 1968 by computer scientist Ivan Sutherland, who was aided by his students Bob Sproull, Quintin Foster, and Danny Cohen.

Called the Sword of Damocles, the headset used two CRT monitors capable of displaying digital wireframe graphics. A series of mirrors and prisms was used to superimpose the graphics over the real world. By moving their head, the user of the headset could see various primitive 3D models from different angles.

Because of how heavy the Sword of Damocles headset was, it had to be suspended from the ceiling like the sword that hanged over the head of Damocles when he attended the sumptuous banquet organized for him by Dionysius. The mechanical arm on which the headset was suspended enabled head movements to be tracked in real-time via linkages.

While the Sword of Damocles was never commercialized, it paved the way for the high-definition, lightweight headsets we can purchase today.

In addition to being a VR pioneer, Ivan Sutherland is also respected for his accomplishments in computer graphics. He created the first software program to utilize a complete graphical user interface, called Sketchpad. The program provided the basis for computer graphics and computer-aided design and drafting.

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