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An Interview with VR Pioneer Tom Furness

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Over the last 20 months I’ve had the privilege of welcoming some amazing guests onto #CPDinVR. From educational pioneers like Jaime Donally and the VR Podcast crew to rockstar developers like Tony “Skarred Ghost” Vitillo and Cosmo Scharf to some of immersive tech’s heavy-hitters like John Westra and Charlie Fink. I even managed to convince HTC Vive President Alvin Wang Graylin to deliver the opening keynote presentation for my first anniversary event. I am eternally grateful to each and every person that has given up their time to take part in these free events that I coordinate, and I am constantly in awe of the talent and expertise that is shared during the sessions.

This month’s event was one of the most special one’s ever as I managed to arrange for the original VR pioneer himself Tom Furness to join me. Not only that but it would be his very first public event inside VR. Known as The Grandfather of VR, Tom has been working in the field for more than 50 years and is credited as the designer of a huge array of immersive technologies that have evolved into what we know today as AR and VR. From his work in the US Air Force to his current position at Washington University, Tom has built a career on making the impossible possible and trying to make the world a better place in the process.

To say it was an honour to get to speak with Tom would be an understatement. I referred to it as like getting to speak with Obi-Wan Kenobi of VR and it genuinely was something akin to meeting a Jedi master. Tom was doing things 30 years ago that people are still scrambling to achieve today. In fact at one point during our interview, I turned to the audience to ask if anyone else had the feeling that Tom had perhaps travelled back in time from the future to which the majority agreed with me!

Tom was scheduled to speak with me for around 30-45 minutes. We ended up doing 90 minutes straight and even then I felt like we could have gone longer. He told stories about building headsets for the Air Force in the 60’s, discussed his work at the Washington University HITlab as well as his own private RATlab. Before diving into some truly fascinating educational case studies from the 1990’s, Tom also discussed the work of the Virtual World Society, which he founded. The VWS is how I originally connected with Tom and I myself have been a member for around a year and a half now. It’s a fantastic collective of people from all parts of the world and a wide range of industries, all striving to make positive use of VR to make the world a better place.

You can join the Virtual World Society for free by clicking here or on the logo -

Below you will find an edited recording of the interview. One thing I would highlight is that for some reason my new HMD decided to lower my voice during the particular event, so I sound somewhat deeper than usual. By the time we realised, there were already 20 people in the space though, so I took the decision to just roll with it on this occasion. Underneath the video recording you can also find a link and instructions for downloading the actual Engage recording files. You can drop these into your Engage folder and then load them up to actually experience the event first hand inside VR. (you can even sit on the couch with Tom if you want to!)

NB you DO NOT need a VR headset to enjoy the Engage recording as the app will work directly on a PC. Click here to download Engage if you do not already have it.

Installing the Engage recording files

First you will need to download the event recording files. These are available to download from Dropbox by clicking here.

Once the files have downloaded, locate them on your PC and then copy them into the Recordings subfolder inside the ENGAGE folder in the Documents library:

These will now be accessible within the Engage app. Load it up and start a session for yourself in the Interview Room space (as this was where we held the interview with Tom.) Once in there, bring up your menu and click on the Recording tab at the top then select Load Recordings:

The files will appear as in the image above and are in chronological order so select the top one first. You can now select Play Now to start playback. It may take a couple of seconds for all the assets to load in.

You are free to move around the space in the recording as you wish and as such you can watch it from any angle! Once the first part finishes, simply repeat the steps outlined above to load up the subsequent sections.

I hope you enjoy the recording. Apologies for some infrequent sound drop-outs but the room was packed and I host these events independently from my home so I think I really pushed my internet connection to its limits with this one!

To get early access to register for future#CPDinVR events, just subscribe to the site.

To finish off, here's a selection of images from the event taken by the always awesome Chris Long (on his magical flying chair!)


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