train surgeons, while the United States Army has used virtual reality to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, in part by exposing soldiers to short simulations of combat.
The mass market has been far more elusive, in large part because the components in the headsets were too costly. Many of the crucial parts in the Oculus Rift are the same components found inside smartphones and tablets, including the headsetís 7-inch display and its sensors for detecting head movements.
Because those parts are already being pumped out in enormous volumes in factories in China, Oculus can create a product that is likely to end up costing consumers something between $200 to $300.
Elements of the Oculus headset are based on the virtual reality research by USC, which has freely released headset designs for others to use.
Still, most venture capitalists would rather finance a hot-dog stand than a high-risk virtual reality start-up. Oculus instead used the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to harness the enthusiasm of virtual reality fans and to take orders so it would not produce too many headsets. It raised $2.4 million on Kickstarter and received orders for 10,000 headsets.
The first ones, which Oculus says will begin shipping next month, are still rough around the edges and are primarily aimed at game developers.
Oculus is mum on when it will ship a version for consumers, hinting that its target is next year.
If the company is successful, it will have a lot to do with Palmer Luckey, the 20-year-old founder of the company, who seems to have wandered out of a casting call for unconventional, young technology entrepreneurs. He pads around his office in bare feet, munching on cookies. He refuses a chair during a meeting, preferring to sit cross-legged on the floor.
Luckey was a home-schooled teenager living with his parents in Long Beach, Calif., when he began collecting virtual reality headsets, a habit he financed by fixing broken iPhones and Nintendo DSís in his garage and reselling them at a profit. Luckey estimates he spent $32,000 on headsets in one year alone, about 45 of which he now has in