Stereoscopes: the first VR Devices?

I’ve been particularly interested in the rise of VR tech over the past few years because for a long time, I’ve been a fan and collector of perhaps the first widely popular VR device used for educational purposes: the stereoscope.


(None of my stereoscopes are this fancy.)

The stereoscope is a device from the 19th century which operates on the simple concept that our eyes create depth by comparing our left-eye image and our right-eye image. If you view two images that have been taken about 5-10 cm apart (the distance between your eyes), one in your left eye and one in your right eye, then your brain will fuse them into a single, 3D image. The stereoscope enhances this effect by adding in lenses which make the image seem larger in your field of vision.

Educational designers always love to take new technology intended for entertainment and use it in an educational capacity. Apparently, that was even true before educational technology existed. As well as saucy pin-ups, stereoscopes were sold to factories to educate people about work practice and schools for geography and economics lessons. Before the aeroplane, the stereoscope made the world available to the middle classes by placing absorbing 3D images of exotic locals in homes.


Devices like the Oculus Rift and the Gear VR use the same basic concept as the stereoscope, but with screens taking the place of photographs. Perhaps one day they’ll be just as ubiquitous as the stereoscope once was.

Proof that what goes around comes around!


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