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Sutherland's Sword of Damocles

The first true computer mediated VR system was Professor Ivan Sutherland's 'Sword of Damocles' display system. Built in 1968, the sword got its name directly from the Greek story of Damocles, the sword which hung suspended by a hair, directly above the king's throne. At any moment, the hair might snap, and the sword plunge down, killing the king.

Not exactly a comfortable sounding interface, but Sword of Damocles would not skewer its user to death. Bludgeon, yes.

The sword was the first BOOM display - Binocular Omni Orientation Monitor. Essentially, professor Sutherland created what we now refer to as a HMD or head mounted display. The system was essentially a complete computer and display system for displaying a single wireframe cube in stereoscopy to the viewer's eyes. Unfortunately, at the time, such an 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. Hence the sword hanging over the head.

At the time of creating it, Professor Sutherland worked at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, and had been the head of (D)ARPA's Information Processing Technology Office for four years.

The display, whilst primitive by today's standards, tracked the positions 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.


Virtual Dictionary: Sword of Damocles

The Ultimate Display - Sutherland's Original Work, PDF

A Critical History of Computer Graphics and Animation

Wikipedia: Ivan Sutherland

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