Professor Furness is the founding father of the HIT Lab and is often referred to as the 'Grandfather of Virtual Reality' due to his outstanding contribution to the advancement of this field.
Tom Furness is a Professor of Industrial Engineering and holds Adjunct Professorships in Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Aeronautics and Astronautics and Technical Communications at the University of Washington. He has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Duke University and a Ph.D. in Engineering and Applied Science from the University of Southampton, England.
Professor Furness started the HIT Lab in Sept 1989 with the aim of developing a national laboratory that was dedicated to empowering people by building interfaces to advanced machines. He has led the HIT Lab into becoming one of the world's leading virtual reality research laboratories. His leadership, vision and continued dedication to his students, staff and fellow researched have earned him wide respect and recognition.
In his current role as Director Emeritus, Professor Furness will assist the new leadership of the HIT Lab to continue its world status as a center for creative research and in interface development. He will continue to serve as a principal investigator, mentor of graduate students, teach courses and work on long term and high risk projects. He is currently the International Director of the HITLab New Zealand.
Professor Furness' intent is to develop a worldwide network of HIT Labs such as the HITLab in New Zealand and to engage the young people of the earth in creative problem solving through the organization of a Virtual World Society.
Professor Furness spent the first 23 years of his professional career working for the Department of Defense (USAF), primarily at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio. His work centered on developing advanced cockpits for fighter aircraft. In the process of his work, he developed a new family of virtual interfaces that evolved into what we know today as virtual reality. He pioneered the development of both virtual displays and head-mounted tracking systems, 3D sound systems and other interfaces. Prior to leaving the Air Force in 1989, Professor Furness started the Super Cockpit program to develop a cockpit that the pilot wears that would deeply couple the 3D human capabilities to the machine.
Professor Furness has been widely recognized for his outstanding career, he received the Satava Award (with the HIT Lab) for advances in medical technology and in 1998 he also received the Discover Award for Technological Innovation for his ground-breaking technology: the Virtual Retinal Display. The award is considered the equivalent of an Oscar for Science and Engineering.
Professor Furness' research interests center upon empowering people by developing tools that engage, enlighten and even entertain. To be useful, he believes that these tools should be configured to 'impedance match' the perceptual and cognitive abilities of the human thereby providing optimal pathways to get bandwidth to the brain and between brains. He sees this as a quest for the ultimate interface. He also feels that technology should be used to solve pervasive problems in the world such as world hunger, renewable energy, desolating diseases such as AIDs, aging, illiteracy etc. Tom Furness also fears that our technology may be causing more problems than it is solving, e.g. pollution and global warming, genetically modified food etc. He sees his quest as helping to make the world a better place by the enlightened use of technology, bringing minds together to solve these problems.
In his rather scarce free time Professor Furness enjoys his four grandchildren and being creative in form of sketching, film-making and carpentry. He also likes surfing and hiking.