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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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  • On November 3, 2006

While I was looking through maoworks website I noticed they’re working on a project called Sensorama with engineers ARUP, Imperial College, British Telecom and my old art school Central Saint Martins. Unfortunately no information is revealed but it reminded me of the project of the same name developed by Morton Heilig in the 1950’s.

The Sensorama (See Patent Application) was a machine that is one of the earliest known examples of immersive, multi-sensory (now known as multimodal) technology. Morton Heilig  saw theater as an activity that could encompass all the senses in an effective manner, thus drawing the viewer into the onscreen activity. He dubbed it “Experience Theater”, and detailed his vision of multi-sensory theater in his 1955 paper entitled “The Cinema of the Future” (Robinett 1994). He built a prototype of his vision, dubbed the Sensorama, along with five short films to be displayed in it. Predating digital computing, the Sensorama was a mechanical device, which still functions today.

Howard Rheingold (in his 1992 book Virtual Reality) spoke of his trial of the Sensorama using a short film piece that detailed a bicycle ride through Brooklyn, created in the 1950s, and still seemed quite impressed by what it could do more than 40 years later. The Sensorama was able to display stereoscopic 3D images in a wide-angle view, provide body tilting, supply stereo sound, and also had tracks for wind and aromas to be triggered during the film. Oddly enough in hindsight, Heilig was unable to obtain financial backing for his visions and patents, and the Sensorama work was halted and today remains primarily a curiosity in the expansive lore of Virtual Reality.

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