VPL Research

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VPL Research was one of the first companies that developed and sold virtual reality products. It was founded by VR pioneer Jaron Lanier in 1984.[1] VPL started in the corner of Lanier's cottage in the San Francisco Bay Area.[2] "VPL" stood for "Virtual Programming Languages", and Lanier said that the goal of the company was to bring virtual reality to a mass audience.[3] In 1990, VPL Research filed for bankruptcy and in 1999 all of its patents were bought by Sun Microsystems.[4]


A VPL Research DataSuit, a full-body outfit with sensors for measuring the movement of arms, legs, and trunk. Developed circa 1989. Displayed at the Nissho Iwai showroom in Tokyo

The Data Glove[edit]

This device originally started as an input system for computers. It was later used for virtual reality systems. Thomas Zimmerman invented the prototype of the Data Glove and began looking for other people to help work on it. The device was using 6502 microcontrollers. Zimmerman met Mitch Altman and asked him to join VPL part-time because Altman knew how to program the microcontrollers.[5]

The system was wired to a computer. It was interactive and contained fiber-optic bundles to track movements and orientation. That data would then be transmitted to the computer so that the information could be duplicated virtually. It allowed for people to manipulate and re-orient virtual objects. Applications for this wearable device centered on input computer control, gaming, and also the potential for remote surgery.

The EyePhone[edit]

This was a head mounted display (HMD) that was meant to immerse users into a computer simulation. It could track head movements. The headset used Fresnel lenses.[6]

The Data Suit[edit]

The DataSuit was a full-body outfit with sensors for measuring the movement of arms, legs, and trunk.

Team members[edit]

Core team
  • Jaron Lanier
  • Mitch Altman
  • Thomas Zimmerman
  • Jean-Jacques Grimaud - Co-founder, President, VP of Engineering[7]
  • Chuck Blanchard
  • Steve Bryson
  • Young Harvill – In his spare time, Harvill created a program called Swivel 3D which was used for creating computer art. It gave the users the ability to generate virtual worlds on a Macintosh computer. He licensed that software to VPL. Shortly after, Harvill joined VPL as their fourth employee in 1985. During his time there, he worked on a project called "Reality Built for Two (RB2)" which was the first VR system at that time. He also helped with the Data Glove as well.[8]
  • David Levitt
  • Marc deGroot
  • Mark Oberman
Associated people
  • Timothy Leary – When Leary got out of jail, he was interested in finding legal ways to explore consciousness which led him to working with individuals at VPL.[9]

In popular culture[edit]