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Thomas A. Furness

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Professor Emeritus
Industrial & Systems Engineering

Adjunct Professor
Electrical & Computer Engineering


Dr. Tom Furness is a pioneer in human interface technology and grandfather of virtual reality. Tom is currently a professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering with adjunct professorships in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington. 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. He is the founder of the Virtual World Society dedicated to bringing together heart and mind through virtual reality to solve pervasive problems in the world.

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, the HALO display and holds 19 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.

In addition to his academic appointments, Dr. Furness was the Chairman and President of the first Augmented Reality Company: ARToolworks Inc. recently acquire by DAQRI. He also runs his own ‘skunkworks’ company: RATLab LLC (RAT = rockin’ and thinkin’) where he and his colleagues develop advanced technologies for spinoff companies. His current projects deal with developing pulse diagnosis as an early warning system for cardiovascular disease and the start-up of the Virtual World Society, a non-profit for extending virtual reality as a learning system for families.

Tom is also co-inventor of the SPM (spectral matching) technology licensed to Visualant Inc. He continues to serve as a Senior Scientific Advisor for the company and recently received the 2013 SPIE Prism Award for his invention of the ChromaID technology.

Tom has continued an active role in virtual and augmented reality development and application. In August 2014 he presented a keynote address: ‘Seeing Anew’ at the IEEE International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality in Munich, Germany and 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. In March 2016 Tom received the IEEE VR Career Award for his lifetime contributions to the fields of virtual and Augmented Reality.


  • Ph.D. in Engineering and Applied Science from the University of Southampton, England, 1981
  • B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Duke University

Select publications

  1. Viirre, Erik S., Melville, Ross, Furness, Thomas A. (2016) Extramission: The Eye Emits Photons: Are There Controlled Signals from the Retina? Presented at the Science of Consciousness Symposium, (2.03 Neuroscience of Vision), Tucson, Arizona. April 25-30, 2016.
  2. Furness, T, and Lee, Young Jae "Interaction Control Based on Vision for AR Interface of Smart Phone", International Journal of Smart Home, vol. 7, no. 4, (2013), pp. 349-360.
  3. Furness, T, Belcher, D, Zhang, X, Vijayakanthan, A, (2008) JITC3: Just-in-time augmented reality command and control center. CHI 2008, April 5-10, 2008, Florence, Italy.
  4. Schowengerdt, B.T., Seibel, E.J., Silverman, N.L. and Furness, T.A. (2004). Stereoscopic retinal scanning laser display with integrated focus cues for ocular accommodation. Proc. SPIE, 5291, 366-376.
  5. Schowengerdt, B.T., Seibel, E.J., Kelly, J.P., Silverman, N.L. and Furness, T.A. (2003). Binocular retinal scanning laser display with integrated focus cues for ocular accommodation. Presented at Stereoscopic Displays and Applications XIV, SPIE&IS&T Electronic Imaging, January 2003, Santa Clara, CA.
  6. Hoffman, H. G., Garcia-Palacios, A., Carlin, C., Furness, T.A. III and Botella-Arbona, C. (2003). Interfaces that heal: Coupling real and virtual objects to cure spider phobia. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 15, 469-486.
  7. Chinthammit, W, Seibel, E.J.& Furness, T.A. (2003) “A Shared-Aperture Tracking Display for Augmented Reality.” Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 12(1), 1-18.
  8. Duh, B.L., Lin, J.W., Kenyon, R.V., Parker, D.E. and Furness, T.A. III (2002). "Effects of characteristics of image quality on balance in an immersive environment." Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments.
  9. Duh, B.L., Abi-Rached, H., Parker, D.E. and Furness, T.A. (2001). "Effects on balance disturbance of manipulating depth of an independent visual background in a stereographic display." In Proceedings of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 45th Annual Meeting, Minneapolis, MN, Oct 8-12.
  10. Hoffman, H.G., Patterson, D.R., Carrougher, G.J., Nakamura, D., Moore, M., Garcia-Palacios, A., Furness, T.A. III (2001). "The effectiveness of Virtual Reality pain control with multiple treatments of longer durations: A case study." International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 13, 1-12.
  11. Hoffman, H. G., Garcia-Palacios, A., Patterson, D.R., Jensen, M., Furness, T.A. III, & Ammons, W.F. (September, 2001). "The effectiveness of Virtual Reality for dental pain control: A case study." CyberPsychology and Behavior.
  12. Kelly, J.P., Turner, S., Pryor, H.L, Viirre, E.S, Seibel, E.J & Furness, T.A. III. (2001) "Vision with a scanning laser display: comparison of flicker sensitivity to a CRT." Displays 22(5): 169-175.
  13. Kleweno, C.P., Seibel, E.J., Viirre, E.S., Kelly, J.P., and Furness, T.A. III. "The virtual retinal display as a low-vision computer interface: A pilot study." Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, 2001, 38; 431-442.
  14. McQuaide, S.C, Seibel, E.J, Burstein, R & Furness, T.A. III. (2002) "Three-dimensional virtual retinal display using a deformable membrane mirror." Society for Information Display 2002 Intl. Symposium Digest of Technical Papers, vol. XXXIII (2): 1324-1327.
  15. Schowengerdt, B.T., Kelly, J.P., Seibel, E. J., and Furness, T. A. III. (2001) "Strong accommodation bias to a collimated retinal scanned light display." In Proceedings of Society for Information Display, 2001; 32; 610-613.
  16. Seibel, E.J., Frank, S.S., Kloeckner, K.W. and Furness, T.A. III. (2001). Decision-Based Design of a Wearable Low Vision Aid. In Proceedings of ASME IMECE/BED, pp. 193-4.
  17. Kelly, J.P., Turner, S., Pryor, H.L., Viirre, E.S., Seibel, E.J. and Furness, T.A.III (2001). Vision with a Scanning Laser Display: Comparison of Flicker Sensitivity to a CRT. Displays, 22(5), 169-175.
  18. Kleweno, C.P., Seibel, E.J., Viirre, E.S., Kelly, J.P. and Furness, T.A.III (2001). The Virtual Retinal Display as an Alternative Low Vision Computer Interface: Pilot Study. Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, 38(4), 431-442.
  19. Seibel, E.J., Gau, C.-C., McQuaide, S., Weghorst, S.J., Kelly, J.P. and Furness, T.A.III (2001). Augmented retinal light scanning display for low vision: effect of text color and background on reading performance. In Proceedings of Optical Society of America's Topical Meeting on Vision Science and Its Applications, pp. 51-54.
  20. Hoffman, H.G. and Furness, T.A. III. “The healing power of virtual reality.” Siggraph 2001 panel on medical VR applications, Los Angeles, August, 2001.