Robin Hayes - 3D, VR, and Consumer Product Design Consulting - VR History


As a British schoolboy in 1978, after hearing the BBC radio series "The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams, the character that resonated with me was Slartibartfast the designer of planets, a title I adapted for myself when I first started building my own virtual worlds. Later, in 1984 I read Larry Niven and Steven Barnes' book "Dream Park" about an augmented reality adventure park. While some were inspired by the LARPing aspects of this book, for me it was the idea of holographic reality augmentation that was interesting, along with the character of the game master, someone who would spend long hours making the birds fly in realistic non-repitive paterns.

Later still, in 1987, I attended a Xerox PARC lecture by Jaron Lanier about VPL and Reality Built For Two, the birth of what we think of today as Virtual Reality. A few years later, I was working at Silicon Graphics as an "Intranet Technologist" and writing screen savers in OpenGL when Neal Stephenson's book "Snow Crash" fleshed out the concept of a Metaverse for the whole community. Cosmo Software was formed, and shortly after that I joined as a "World Builder".

At Cosmo my job was building demos for tradeshows and demonstrating best practices in 3D design. I spent a lot of my time working with the engineering team on the VRML 2.0 spec. I built a popular web tool that converted older 3D files into the VRML 2.0 format. I also wrote some of the earliest examples of programmatically generated 3D worlds built from databases using PERL. In 1998 I taught a class in 3D modeling and animation at the Banff Centre in Alberta, CA.

After SGI sold Cosmo to Platinum Technology in 1999, my professional career switched tracks a little. I joined TiVo in 1999 before the product announced or launched. I used my database skills to set up their first SQL EPG back-end, and worked with Paul Mace to build anonymous audience measurement services. Then my attention turned to UI, starting by re-building the UI toolkit in C++ and ECMAScript as a software engineer, then as a prototyper working with the desgn team, and finally as a designer. I learned UI design on the job, and ended up as a design manager, overseeing all international deployments.

While I was at TiVo, I was constantly pushing to break new ground; when smartphones began to be popular I pushed for smartphone control of the TiVo. As a result I ended up desiging, and leading the engineering effort for the TiVo iPad app, the world's first 2-screen interactive entertainment experience. After generating 15 patents around multi-screen interactions there, I decided to move on to more challenging design problems. In 2011 I moved to Samsung where I expanded my design expertise into other TV products, IOT devices, voice control, and mobile, but when the Galaxy VR came out, I remembered why I got into technology in the first place. The lab I was working at was facing hard times after our VP Greg Dudey went back to Apple, so I decided to leave and get back to my passion, which is VR.

I got myself an Oculus DK2, and started looking around for the correct tools to build some of the experiences we had wanted to build back in 1996, now that smartphones have as much graphics processing power as a high end SGI workstation did back in those days. I had been using Blender since 2005, so after reviewing the market, I decided that teaching myself Unreal Engine 4 was the best bet to get my tool chain set up for world building once again. Magrathea here I come.