Tom Furness, PhD

Grandfather of VR/AR
University of Washington


Tom Furness is a pioneer in human interface technology and grandfather of virtual reality. He earned a BS degree in Electrical Engineering from Duke University and the PhD in Engineering and Applied Science from the University of Southampton, England. Tom is currently a professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering with adjunct professorships in Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, Washington, USA. He is the founder of the Human Interface Technology Laboratory (HIT Lab) at UW and founder and international director of the HIT Lab NZ at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand and the HIT Lab Australia at the University of Tasmania, Launceston, Tasmania. He is also an Erskine Fellow and Adjunct Professor at the University of Canterbury and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania.

Prior to joining the faculty at the UW, Tom served a combined 23 years as an U.S. Air Force officer and civilian scientist at the Armstrong Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where he developed advanced cockpits and virtual interfaces for the Department of Defense. He is the author of the Super Cockpit program and served as the Chief of Visual Display Systems and Super Cockpit Director until he joined the University of Washington in 1989. He is credited as a pioneer in developing virtual reality and augmented reality.

Tom lectures widely and has appeared in many national and international network and syndicated television science and technology documentaries and news programs. He is the inventor of the personal eyewear display, the virtual retinal display and holds 21 patents in advanced sensor, display and interface technologies. With his colleagues Dr. Furness has started 27 companies, two of which are traded on NASDAQ at a market capitalization of > $ 8 B (USD). In 1998 he received the Discover Award for his invention of the virtual retinal display. He has over 100 publications in the field of advanced interfaces.

Tom maintains an active role in virtual and augmented reality development and application. In June 2015 he presented a keynote titled ‘Being the future’ at the Augmented World Expo June 2015 in Santa Clara, California, where he received the first lifetime achievement award for his 50 year contribution to the VR and AR Industries. He is currently serving as a senior scientific advisor for EnvelopVR.