Throwback Thursday: Telesphere Mask | Inside VR - September, 19th 2019

Inside VR (Sep 19th, 2019)

Throwback Thursday: Telesphere Mask

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3. Throwback Thursday: Telesphere Mask

If they know the name, most people associate Morton Heilig with the iconic Sensorama machine. But the inventor created a number of VR innovations, including the Telesphere Mask in 1960. This innovation came eight years before the Sword of Damocles, which is widely credited with being the first-ever VR headset.

The Telesphere Mask, which to me looks much like an aluminum version of the Gear VR, and in a very real way, it actually was. The only real difference is that instead of connecting to a yet-to-be-invented smartphone, it linked to miniaturized TV tubes.

Heilig describes it in the patent filing as  "a telescopic television apparatus for individual use where the spectator is given a complete sensation of reality, i.e. moving three-dimensional images which may be in color, with 100% peripheral vision, binaural sound, scents, and air breezes." 

The amazing device was (unlike the Sword of Damocles) light enough to wear on your head, with adjustable ear and eye fixings. Like Sensorama, the mask proved a commercial failure that was way ahead of its time, and even as the second coming of VR dawned in 2016 it remained an obscure footnote in the history of immersive tech. 

His widow, Marianne Heilig, repeatedly tried to donate the historic piece to a museum that would display it, but was flatly rejected by places such as the Hollywood museum even when she offered it for free. In an interview for Tech Radar she said the whole thing made her feel very sad and demoralized: 

"I've almost given up on this whole thing, but I'm not just going to give it away after a lifetime of struggle. I'm still working just to pay interest on the debt because I refuse to go bankrupt," she told Holly Brockwell at the time. 


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