A Brief History of Visual

203. The number of years since Nicéphore Niépce’s first successful photograph. (Show View from the Window as Le Gras)

94. The number of years since John Logie Baird successfully transmitted a television picture at 5 pictures per second.

57. The number of years since Morton Heilig successfully created “Sensorama”, a pioneering Virtual Reality experience.

27. The number of years since Louis Rosenberg created “Virtual Fixtures”, a pioneering platform for Augmented Reality.

12. The number of years since Apple debuted the “iPhone”.

2. The number of years since Oculus debuted the “Oculus Rift” and Microsoft debuted the “HoloLens”. (Show Headsets)

Modern humans started colonizing the continents anywhere from 125,000 to 60,000 years ago. Much of this time, humans slowly started to understand the world, its inhabitants and how to be a.k.a “eat, shit, fuck”. Over time, humans grew, particularly in curiosity and mental fortitude. Possessing the ability to use our brains to create turned out to be the crowning trait of mankind. We were a visual people, and still are to this day. Seeing is believing. Nowadays, this mantra has never rang truer. We currently live in an age where the world is connected through social media and the ability to send 10 second disappearing nudes to any one of your friends. Now, I’m not sure these modern uses are exactly what Niépce had in mind when he invented the photograph. Regardless, the fact that in 200 short years we went from needing days to create a single photograph to being able to stream a hologram of ones’ self home for a “visit” with the folks, is simply astonishing.

Humans are innovating at a rapid rate with only a brighter future in sight. Not only have we focused on increasing our own ability to see, but we have also created machines to see for us. Nearly 50 years ago, computer vision research began at universities that were pioneering artificial intelligence. Early systems were meant to mimic the human visual system. This research laid the foundation for future industry changing technology that we currently see in products such as the Tesla Model S and the Microsoft Kinect. We are in an age of digital enlightenment. While we may take these applications for granted today, products such as these were thought to be no more than science fiction concepts many years ago. Due to the hard work and perseverance of many brilliant people, we can finally drop the “fiction” from many of these concepts.

Much like its ancestors “photo” and “video”, the advent of volumetric video looks to be the next game changing medium. While we have had decades of practical use of 2D video, entertainment and communication need to always be improving. And it has. We have transcended the confines of 2D imagery to make it to the 3D plane of existence in technology. Being able to view 3D content, that is also spatially aware, is still not understood in its entirety to this day, but is nonetheless a welcomed sight. While we have made great leaps and bounds, we are still very early in the age of 3D. We yearn for an immersive experience that we do not yet know. An experience Morton Heilig dreamed of and tried to execute with his Sensorama only a few decades ago. While products such as the HoloLens and Magic Leap One have been well received by developers/engineers, the general public has not quite caught on due to factors such as price and lack of game changing applications. Like many early industries, use cases are at a “gimmick” stage as creators navigate the waters to mass appeal.

So the next time you stare at your beautiful notch to unlock your iPhone X or throw on a Samsung Gear VR, remember how far we have come. But also, what a ways we still have to go. As a people, we strive for the continuing goal of innovation. To be able to see in new ways, as well as share this wondrous ability with our machines, is a never ending pursuit. A never ending pursuit that I’m glad to be a part of. Looking back at the past 200 years fills me with excitement for the next 200 years. What will happen? What will we create? I hope I’m there to see it, and be a part of it, but that’s a blog post for another day.

“If you go back a few hundred years, what we take for granted today would seem like magic – being able to talk to people over long distances, to transmit images, flying, accessing vast amounts of data like an oracle. These are all things that would have been considered magic a few hundred years ago.” – Elon Musk


-Justin Baker, CTO