Watch: Microsoft's Bill Buxton Shows Off Virtual Reality Gadgets From 1838


CRNtv recently had the chance to explore the history of virtual reality and augmented reality with Microsoft researcher Bill Buxton.

Buxton is well-known for his collections. After all, he’s been collecting interactive gadgets for over 40 years, describing himself as a relentless advocate for innovation and design. His collection was first shown publicly at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2004. Since then, it has grown significantly with the help of Microsoft Research.   

“This is as much about history as it is about the future or it’s as much about the future as it is about history. The two are intertwined and the best way to actually know what’s going to come is to realize the future is already here -- it’s just not uniformly distributed,” said Buxton, as he showed off devices like the Cyberglove from 1988, a verbal communication aid for the deaf, deaf-blind and non-vocal. With the glove, hand posture can be sensed by a computer. The words are output using synthesized speech.

The technologies in the VR collection stem from 1838 when the Stereoscope was invented. It used a pair of mirrors at 45-degree angles to the viewer’s eyes, each reflecting a picture off to the side. When combined by the brain, the images are seen in 3-D.

“From the time these ideas began digitally, we now have 4.3 billion times the compute power than we had in 1968 when the ideas started to gel digitally,” said Buxton, referring to the first VR headset created by Sutherland & Sproull. It hung from a ceiling by a mechanical arm due to its weight. 

Buxton said we hit a serious turning point with the invention of Microsoft’s HoloLens in 2016. HoloLens became the first self-contained, holographic computer, containing more compute power than the average laptop.

For more of Buxton’s interview, watch CRNtv’s video included in this article.