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Virtual Reality Victorian style Photo from Peter Blair Collection Edinburgh Castle from Grassmarket, c. 1865

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irtual Reality - the buzz phrase of the millennium conjuring up perceptions of being the latest in 21st century technology. But, the technological ability to fix a screen to your eyes and immersive yourself in another world isn’t quite as new as you think. And, as is often the case the Scots were well ahead of the game. It is true that among the pantheon of Scottish inventions, virtual reality is not often mentioned. However, 170 years ago Sir David Brewster, the Principal of St Andrews University and a world expert in optics, came up with a device to view photographs in 3D.

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His lenticular stereoscope was a compact hand-held instrument which used twin lenses to view two photographs mounted side-by-side on a card. Today’s virtual reality headsets are identical in design and concept! Imagine if Dr Who was to whisk a Victorian gentleman forward through time to the present day. There would be many technological marvels which would astound and bemuse him. Virtual Reality headsets would not be among them. “Ah yes, a Brewster stereoscope!”, the Victorian would exclaim, “and with all the advances in technology you have managed to make the 3D images move. Such a shame that the picture quality is so much poorer than back 150 years ago!”

Brewster stereoscope

It was in December 1848 that Brewster first demonstrated his stereoscope to his friends. In truth, it was not the first stereoscope. That honour goes to Sir Charles Wheatstone, who in the 1830s proposed a theory of how our

Profile for Scotland Correspondent

Scotland Correspondent Issue 32  

THE magazine for lovers of all things Scottish. Great stories and pictures covering history, heritage, lifestyle, travel and much more. In...

Scotland Correspondent Issue 32  

THE magazine for lovers of all things Scottish. Great stories and pictures covering history, heritage, lifestyle, travel and much more. In...