HMD – History and objectives of inventions

Much before Google Glass came on the scene to testers in April 2013, head-mounted displays had appeared, in the form of concepts, during the middle of the twentieth century. Since then, there have been many researches, investigations, tests, prototypes and usable products that have made head-mounted display history.

Head-mounted displays history dates to 1945, where McCollum patented the first stereoscopic television apparatus. The objects of his invention were:

  1. Provide a new and improved stereoscopic television apparatus whereby a plurality of people can simultaneously and with equal facility view an object which has been transmitted  by stereoscopic television.
  2. Provide a new and improved stereoscopic television apparatus which is simpler, cheaper, more efficient and more convenient than those heretofore known.
  3. Provide a new and improved stereoscopic television apparatus wherein the image creating mechanism is mounted in a spectacle frame.
McCollum patent figures

McCollum patent figures


Heilig also patented a stereoscopic television HMD for individual use in 1960. His invention was directed to improvements in stereoscopic television apparatus for individual use. It comprises the following elements: a hollow casing, a pair of optical units, a pair of television tube units, a pair of ear phones and a pair of air discharge nozzles. The below image show an example of his invention:

Heilig stereoscopic television diagram

Heilig stereoscopic television diagram


The objects of his invention were:

  1. Provide easily adjustable and comfortable means for causing the apparatus containing the optical units, to be held in proper position, on the head of the user so that the apparatus does not sag, and so that its weight is evenly distributed over the bone structure of the front and back of the head, without the necessity of holding the apparatus up by hand.
  2. Provide means whereby the optical and television tube units may be individually adjusted to bring said units into their proper positions with respect to the eyes of the user and with respect to each other.
  3. Provide ear phones which are so designed that the outer ear is completely free and un touched, thus allowing the ear phones to operate fully as sound focusing organs.
  4. Provide means for independently adjusting the pair of ear phones to bring them into proper position with respect to the ears of the user.
  5. Provide means for conveying to the head of the spectator, air currents of varying velocities, temperatures and odors.
  6. Provide the optical units with a special lens arrangement which will bend the peripheral rays coming from the television tube so that they enter the eyes of the user from the sides therefor, creating the sensation of peripheral vision filling an arc of more than 140° horizontally and vertically.

Two years later, Heilig, developed and patented a stationary virtual reality (VR) simulator, the Sensorama Simulator, which was equipped with a variety of sensory devices including handlebars, a binocular display, vibrating seat, stereophonic speakers, cold air blower, and a device close to the nose that would generate odors that fit the action in the film, to give the user virtual experiences. The main objectives of his invention were:

  1. Provide an apparatus to simulate a desired experience by developing sensations in a plurality of the senses.
  2. Provide a new and improved apparatus to develop realism in a simulated situation.
  3. Provide an apparatus for simulating an actual, predetermined experience in the senses of an individual.
Sensorama Simulator

Sensorama Simulator


In 1961, Philco Corporation designed a helmet that used head movements to gain access into artificial enviroments enhaced with a tracking system. The invention was called Headsight and was the first actual HMD invention.

The main objective was to be used with a remote controlled closed circuit video system for remotely viewing dangerous situations. In fact, their system used a head mounted display to monitor conditions in another room, using magnetic tracking to monitor the user’s head movements.

Philco Headsight

Philco Headsight


Bell Helicopter Company, in 1960’s, performed several early camera-based augmented-reality systems. In one, the head-mounted display was coupled with an infrared camera that would give military helicopter pilots the ability to land at night in rough terrain. An infrared camera, which moved as the pilot’s head moved, was mounted on the bottom of a helicopter. The pilot’s field of view was that of the camera.


Ivan Sutherland, a hall of fame computer scientist, invented the first true computer mediated virtual reality system called  ‘Sword of Damocles’. It was the first BOOM display – Binocular Omni Orientation Monitor. Essentially, the system was a complete computer and display system for displaying a single wireframe cube in stereoscopy to the viewer’s eyes. Unfortunately, at the time, such apparatus was too bulky to head mount. Instead, it was bolted into the ceiling, and reached down via a long, height adjustable pole, to where a user’s head could be strapped to it. The display, whilst primitive by today’s standards, tracked the position of both eyes, allowed the user to swivel it around the Z axis 360 degrees, tracked its orientation and the head position of the user. In addition, the system was not immersive, allowing the user to see the room beyond via transparent elements of the hardware. Thus, it is also considered to be the first augmented reality display.

The Sword of Damocles was the precursor to all the digital eyewear and virtual reality applications.

The objective of his invention was to surround the user with displayed three-dimensional information which changes as he moves.


Sutherland - Sword of Democles

Sutherland – Sword of Democles


Steve Mann, born 1962, in Ontario, Canada, is a living laboratory for the cyborg life-style. He is one of the leaders in WearComp (wearable computing) and one of the integral members of the Wearable computing group at MIT Media Lab. He believes computers should be designed to function in ways organic to human needs rather than requiring humans to adapt to demanding requirements of technology. Mann has developed computer systems — both wearable and embedded — to augment biological systems and capabilities during all waking hours. His work touches a wide range of disciplines from implant technology to sousveillance (inverse surveillance), privacy, cyber security and cyborg-law.

In 1981, Steve Mann created the first version of the EyeTap. While still in high-school he wired a 6502 computer (as used in the Apple-II) into a steel-frame backpack to control flash-bulbs, cameras, and other photographic systems. The display was a camera viewfinder CRT attached to a helmet, giving 40 column text. Input was from seven microswitches built into the handle of a flash-lamp, and the entire system (including flash-lamps) was powered by lead-acid batteries.

The objective was to acts as a camera to record the scene available to the eye as well as a display to superimpose computer-generated imaginery on the original scene available to the eye.

Steve Mann - First EyeTap

Steve Mann – First EyeTap


In 1989, sold by Reflection Technology, Private Eye head-mounted display scanned a vertical array of LEDs across the visual field using a vibrating mirror. The monochrome screen is 1.25-inches on the diagonal, but images appear to be a 15-inch display at 18-inches distance.

Private Eye

Private Eye


Steve Mann, appearead again in 1994 with the Weareable Wireless Webcam. Webcam transmitted images point-to-point from a head-mounted analog camera to an SGI base station via amateur TV frequencies. The images were processed by the base station and displayed on a webpage in near real-time. (The system was later extended to transmit processed video back from the base station to a heads-up display and was used in augmented reality experiments performed with Thad Starner). It was the first example of Lifelogging.

The lasts 20 years the development of HMD blow up, were companies created many products with different technologies, types, structures and uses. Input devices that lend themselves to mobility and/or hands-free use are good candidates, for example:

  • Touchpad or buttons
  • Compatible devices (e.g. smartphones or control unit)
  • Speech recognition
  • Gesture recognition
  • Eye tracking
  • Brain–computer interface

The main examples are:

  • 1998: Digital Eye Glass EyeTap Augmediated Reality Goggles


  • 2000: MicroOptical’s TASK-9 was founded in 1995 by Mark Spitzer, who is now a director at the Google X lab. The company ceased operations in 2010, but the patents have been acquired by Google.


  • 2005: MicroVision’s Nomad Digital Display: MicroVision is now working with automotive suppliers to develop laser heads-up displays to provide information to drivers in their field of vision.


  • 2008: MyVu Personal Media Viewer, Crystal Editiondf: MyVu’s Personal Media Viewers hooked up to external video sources, such as an iPod, to provide the illusion of watching the content on a large screen from several feet away.


  • 2009: Vuzix Wrap SeeThru Proto: Wrap SeeThru was developed by Vuzix in 2009. The publicly traded company has been developing video eyewear for 15 years and has dozens of patents on the technology.


  • 2013: Meta’s eyewear enters 3D space and uses your hands to interact with the virtual world. The Meta system includes stereoscopic 3D glasses and a 3D camera to track hand movements, similar to the portrayals of gestural control in movies like “Iron Man” and “Avatar.” Meta expects to have more fashionable glasses in 2014.


  • 2013: Google Glass: Google’s project program for developing a line of hands-free, head-mounted intelligent devices that can be worn by users as “wearable computing” eyewear.






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