The History of Artificial and Virtual Reality AR/VR


Virtual Reality is a widespread term that is often misused. This blog will address these errors and explain the categorization of (AR/VR/MR) otherwise known as extended reality (XR).

The ‘X’ in XR does not stand for Extended, but rather is a variable, meaning it can be interchanged. The types of Extended reality include augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality of course.

The Etymology of ‘Virtual’

As the most known term, we will begin with Virtual Reality. The word ‘virtual’ has changed over the centuries. Stemming from the Latin word virtus, then virtualis, virtual in the 15th century meant “being something in essence or effect, though not actually or in fact” then in 1959 the meaning changed in common use to the computer sense of “not physically existing but made to appear by software”.

Virtual Reality

VR is a fully immersive experience composed entirely of computer-generated environments and objects or 360o videos. So, what this means is, the term ‘virtual reality’ can only be applied to programs that completely change the environment around the user.

To explain, Virtual reality is created by using sensory stimulators to trick the user’s brain into believing they are in a separate reality. This can be accomplished by using headsets known as head-mounted displays (HMD).

Head-Mounted Displays

The HMD has small OLED or LCD monitors in front of the eyes for rendering stereoscopic graphics and binaural audio systems. And so, this technology allows the user to see a 3D view and hear with depth and directionality. The HMD also obtains positional and rotational real-time head tracking for 6 degrees of freedom (DOF), allowing the user to turn their head to look around in the virtual world.

Some VR even has motion controls to allow for movement within the world. Motion controls can be used with handheld controllers like Oculus, but more immersive systems have omnidirectional treadmills with waist supports. This lets users walk or run in real life as well as the virtual world without falling or getting tangled from discombobulation.

Augmented Reality

From virtual reality, we will move on to augmented reality. Augmented reality is different in that it is not a completely immersive, virtual experience. It is the merging of the real and virtual worlds with additive or destructive overlaid sensory.

The purpose is to enhance or alter the real world rather than replace it like virtual reality. Virtual objects or displays lay over the real world with positional tracking, typically through a set of smart glasses, goggles, monocles, or HMD.

Magic Leap AR

Augmented reality lets its user see the real world with an enhanced display for information needed without looking away. This technology is especially useful for military and medical purposes as both require much focus and information in high-stress, timely scenarios.

A great example of augmented reality in the military is the apache monocle, a head display unit like the HMD, which allows for infrared sight and tracking. Alternatively, Augmented Virtuality is the addition of real-world objects to a virtual environment.

VP of BD, Kevin Vizzarri, wearing an Apache Monocle
with AR Capabilities

Mixed Reality

Mixed reality, in a sense, is a spectrum between VR and the real world. As Milgram and Kishino put it, Mixed reality is anywhere between the extrema of the virtual continuum. This includes AR and AV. Similar to augmented, mixed reality is a merging of the real and virtual worlds. However, with mixed reality, the virtual world can integrate with the real world to allow interactions between the two.

Graph of the Virtual Continuum
(MR in Blue)

To clarify, mixed reality is different than AR in that MR has occlusion and integration with AV. Occlusion lets virtual objects be obscured by real objects. This makes the user feel as if the virtual environment is immersed in the real world rather than feeling immersed in a virtual world like VR.

Using Mixed reality to explain cross reality
The spectrum of the Virtual Continuum

Mixed reality has many practical uses, one of them being interactive product content management (IPCM). IPCM is used to allow customers to view furniture, paint, and other products in their homes or workspace virtually before they buy. Other uses of MR include artistic expression, studies in AI, digitized human consciousness, and of course, military and medical training.

Another major use is in the MR subbranch, Augmented Virtuality (AV). AV integrates real-world objects in a virtual space. Green screen and video chat backgrounds are great examples of AV. This technology was especially important in 2020 because it supported and improved remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

History of XR – Timeline

Details and Sources











  • General Electric (GE) builds a computerized flight sim with 180o field of view



  • Aspen movie map



  • StereoGraphics invent Stereo Vision Glasses


  • Sandin and Defani invent Sayre gloves.
    • The first wired gloves for monitored hand movements.


  • Myron Kreuger releases his book, Artificial Reality.
    • Myron Krueger. Artificial Reality, Addison-Wesley, 1983.


  • Jaron Lanier and Thomas Zimmerman founded VPL Research, Inc.
    • 1st to sell VR goggles and gloves








  • Georgia Tech and Emory U. create VR war zones for PTSD therapy


  • Robert Abascal Founded AVT Simulation



  • Google invents street view. A virtual map allowing anyone to virtual travel anywhere in the world Google has recorded.



  • 18-year-old entrepreneur, Palmer Luckey, creates the Oculus Rift prototype which is the first AR with a 90o field of view


  • Thanks to the development of technology VR is widely accessible to the world at cheaper costs.

P. Milgram and A. F. Kishino (1994). “Taxonomy of Mixed Reality Visual Displays”. IEICE Transactions on Information and Systems. pp. 1321–1329. Retrieved 2013-10-17

Master Modeling, Simulation, and Training (MS&T)

Want to learn about Simulation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), or Law and Corporate Practices? Check out our Training Courses!

Learn more about how AVT Simulation helps change the simulation training industry with our products and services.

Initially, Applied Visual Technology Inc., AVT has been developing modeling and simulation expertise through engineering services since 1998. This is due to our founder who has accumulated over 30 years of military MS&T expertise in aviation applications. Nonetheless, everyone at AVT specializes in making old training systems new again and making new ones for less. Consequently, for 20 years AVT has served our Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine customers by providing the highest quality of service and solutions. Following its inception, AVT’s highly specialized staff of engineers has included some of the top leaders in the simulation industry. With over 20 years of simulation experience, our dedicated team provides specialized solutions for customers with complex problems.