The NASA Virtual Environment Workstation (1987)

an early VR system
developed at NASA's Ames Research Center, in Mountain View, California
by Warren Robinett, Scott Fisher, and Mike McGreevy.

An early implementation of a VR system, before it was called VR.

The Virtual Environment Workstation was developed at NASA in the mid-1980's, and it was an early VR system, even though the term "Virtual Reality" had not yet been coined. It featured a Head-Mounted Display (HMD), put together from a motorcycle helmet, a pair of small LCD television displays, a Polhemus magnetic tracker, and optics intended for viewing steroscopic photographs. The system also used an instrumented glove as a manual input device, which was made by a subcontractor, VPL Research. This was the first use of a glove in VR.

The concept of an immersive virtual world was invented by Ivan Sutherland in the 1960's; but little happened in the following 20 years after that because computer-graphic hardware was not yet powerful enough to do much. The NASA Virtual Environment Workstation was the project which rekindled interest in immersive computer-generated virtual worlds, starting in the mid-1980's. We would now call such a system with the name "virtual reality" or "Holodeck", but those terms had not yet been coined.

...even by 1987, computer graphics were not yet capable of much image complexity (in real-time: 30 frames per second).

...NASA supported this UI work because of possible tele-operation applications (operator on earth, tele-robot in space).

... used glove to create a gestural command language (point to fly, grab to pick up virtual object).

... explored various applications that might use the HMD (3D data visualization, tele-operation, remote inspection, 3D video games).

The Virtual Environment Workstation was a pioneering VR project that led to the first VR media feeding frenzy in the early 1990's. Then another 20 years of quiescence went by before Facebook bought Oculus Rift for $2 billion, and ignited the second VR media feeding frenzy.