100 Original Voices in XR
This list is inspired by all the people who bring fresh, original thinking to the field of Spatial Computing: XR/AR/VR/MR.
They may not call themselves “influencers” or have lots of followers or a Wiki page. But when they speak, we should always listen, because they’re likely sharing something important that we haven’t heard before. And to the extent we have heard something before, there’s a good chance it came from such an original thinker, got digested, emulsified and regurgitated for larger audiences.
So unless you’re a baby bird, have a weak stomach, or otherwise need your ideas pre-digested for you, I humbly suggest you go straight to these sources for their more nuanced and often spicy takes.
The most seasoned veterans in XR follow originals.
Of course, there is no official arbiter of originality and many more people than I can possibly list. But I’ve seen enough in the last 30 years to help identify things that feel new and original vs. innocently re-invented or cleverly recycled. I’m aways happiest to see and learn something new. And many of these folks challenge our pre-conceptions with their questions and ideas.
If you have any concerns about who I did or didn’t include on the list, please first read the FAQ at the end:
- Special Mentions
- Where are All the Big Company XR Folks?
- What about Famous Execs and Influencers?
- Don’t Forget the Original Originals!
Most questions have simple answers that may have already been addressed. Some issues are sensitive and/or private. Please talk to me privately (DM or private note here) before blasting publicly. This is meant to be an entirely positive experience for everyone.
Note: I did remove one person after publication after it came to light that she had a number of credible accusations of abusive behavior.
The following people were selected based on my awareness of their public-facing work and on trusted recommendations. We’re looking at the originality of their ideas and not social media reach, popularity, CV or funding. In fact, if they already have 30k followers or personal wikipedia pages, they probably don’t need me to spotlight them. There are a few more people I wanted to include here, but we couldn’t get their bios together in time for publication.
Everyone owns their specific bio, including any self-descriptions. I limited the overall length and helped edit on length, not for content.
There is no order or ranking in this list. All art here is shared with permission of the artist to improve the aesthetics of the text (thank you!)
@ handles should link to Twitter or otherwise be clear. If there is an asterisk after a name, that name links to a Medium account you can follow here.
Silka Sietsma* (@silka) speaks passionately for “norm core” design principles for XR. She works hard to bring designers together across companies and even domains. She is Head of Emerging Design at Adobe and long-time advocate of thoughtful, inclusive design.
Dylan Urquidi* (@3Duaun) is an XR designer, engineer, and multi-disciplinary generative XR artist. Their research at Unity Labs is directed toward the intersection of XR, BCI/EMG, privacy, and consciousness. They’ve received awards for engineering & designing tools such as “EditorXR”, winning the “Best in Virtual Tech” award at “San Francisco Design Week”. Creative tools they’ve developed have been featured at events such as SIGGRAPH, GDC/VRDC, Magic Leap’s keynote, and others.
Aaron Pulkka* (@apulkka) is an interactive XR creative executive producer. In the early 1990s he began pioneering work in the University of Washington HITLab, earning a master’s degree in Computer Science & Engineering while focusing on massively multi-player VR before joining the Disney Imagineering VR Studio as a Show Designer. He independently produced award-winning spatial computing apps for Google Tango and Microsoft HoloLens, then served as head of attractions for the Two Bit Circus micro-amusement park.
Kathryn Yu* (@kathrynyu) is a game designer & XR developer bridging UX, augmented & virtual reality, games, and immersive theatre. She’s an MFA student at USC Games and the Executive Editor at “No Proscenium: The Guide to Everything Immersive.” Kathryn is also a co-founder of the Immersive Experience Institute, which exists to create a sustainable future for immersive and experiential arts and artists worldwide.
Alex Coulombe* (@iBrews) has been creating theater for over a decade. He’s used VR to help design theaters and preVis shows. His work has informed the Venice Film Festival’s first live VR show, Loveseat, as well as the world’s only ongoing live VR theater festival, OnBoardXR, which he recently co-presented to SIGGRAPH 2021. Alex and his creative studio Agile Lens are developing a new platform for interactive live performances. He consults and speaks and is an organizer of both the RealTime Conference and the 5th Wall Forum.
Jasmine Roberts (@jasminezroberts) is an engineer and speculative design researcher. She’s worked in industry on ARCore’s Depth API, briefly on Unity MARS, and at Sony on PSVR. She’s served as an organizer for the MIT Reality Hack and as chairperson for IEEEVR and UN Women’s VR Showcase. As a proponent for inclusivity, she has given talks on perception and implications of identity exploration through virtual avatars.
Keiichi Matsuda* (@keiichiban) is best known for his dystopian video “Hyper-reality.” He has demonstrated even more original (and less scary) ideas for AR interaction while directing UX design at Leap Motion. He served as design director for consumer experience at Microsoft mixed reality, before establishing his own design consultancy earlier this year.
Kavya Pearlman* (@KavyaPearlman) is a well known CyberGuardian (aka cybersecurity consultant) and founder/CEO of XRSI, the XR Safety Initiative, which has helped develop awareness and planning to mitigate the many new safety and security issues raised by XR technology and its design patterns.
Javier Davalos (@javierdavalos) Is the lead developer/designer of @FigminXR, in 2019 his company Overlay was a recipient of a major grant from Magic Leap, in 2021 he was a invited to showcase his app in SIGGRAPH. Previously a AAA game programmer for an MMO-RPG, programmed / designed a #1 app for iPhone while working for Disney mobile.
Sally Applin / AnthroPunk, Ph.D.* (@AnthroPunk) is an Anthropologist with a background in technology. She is currently affiliated as a Research Fellow at HRAF Advanced Research Centres (EU), a Research Associate at HRAF at Yale University, and an independent consultant. She researches the issues intersecting XR technology with a focus on societal impact and adaptation, including the ways that XR will impact our lives. Her publications can be found at http://sally.com and http://PoSR.org.
Cix (@Cix) Cix has started LIV and YUR, VR companies doing virtual content creation and fitness. Facebook recently copied and blocked his most recent company. He regularly speaks out against Facebook’s monopolistic practices. He is working on a 3rd XR company now to be announced soon.
Nicole Lazzaro* (@NicoleLazzaro) is a serial innovator, immersive media trailblazer, and game industry veteran who runs XEODesign and XEOPlay, where she makes novel games using unique interactions. She designed the first iPhone game. @TiltWorld, was the first to use facial expressions to measure player experiences. She now focuses on original games, spatial audio, emotion AI and emerging XR technologies. Her latest project is Follow the White Rabbit, an XR mystery adventure. @PlayWhiteRabbit
Brielle Garcia* (@tacolamp) is a self-driven artist & developer who is passionate about the future of AR. She has brought her expertise in the field to many international AR campaigns for a variety of platforms. She believes in the power of experimentation and frequently posts fun tests & ideas on Twitter. (portfolio)
Clorama Dorvilias* (@CreativeClo) began her career as a technical multi-disciplinary grad student who explored ways for VR to fix Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training. Her original work has inspired and set the standard for the field as she advocated for research driven VR solutions that measured impact with data. She solo-published the first VR bias testing app “Teacher’s Lens” on Rift store in 2018 with her company Debias VR and now works on the Oculus Developer team as PM.
Alexandria Heston (@ali_heston) works as an XR Designer at Niantic Labs, Inc on Pokémon Go and other AR experiences. Previously she has worked at Magic Leap and other tech consultancies, and over the past couple years has published multiple projects on the intersection of human-computer interaction (HCI) as it relates to VR/AR experiences. In her work she advocates for the importance of Accessibility in the VR/AR industry, and is best known on Twitter for asking deep questions that challenge conventional thinking.
Jeri Ellsworth (@jeriellsworth) is a tireless innovator who spends her time building inspirational technology, and occasionally tweeting clever memes. She’s co-founder and CEO of Tilt5, which is launching a unique low cost and high quality consumer AR headset this year.+
Blair MacIntyre* (@BlairMacIntyre) is a professor of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech, where he teaches and advises students studying XR. He has been researching the socio-technical aspects of XR for more than 30 years, including games, education, and enterprise applications, to social experiences, privacy, and ethics. He contributed the initial design of WebXR and Hubs while at Mozilla, and consults and advises large companies on AR.
Sarah Ticho* (@SarahTicho) is a producer working at the intersection of XR and wellbeing. She is the founder of Hatsumi and co-founder of The XR Health Alliance and Lemonade. She is also the producer at Explore Deep, a breath controlled virtual reality (VR) experience for managing anxiety. She sits on the XR Safety Initative’s Medical XR Council and is training as an end of life doula, supporting people through the end of life process.
Lynette Wallworth* (@Wallworthy) has worked for over 20 years in immersive technologies and has won two Emmy awards for her innovative VR and XR works. She has recently developed a pilot program using VR to help reunite Covid-isolated families in hospital palliative care. She is a member of the World Economic Forum’s AR VR Global Future Council.
Brendan Andolsek Bradley is a multi-award winning actor and creator, known internationally as “America’s Scrappy Storyteller” (AR Post) with 100+ film and television credits, 50M+ views online and a leader in the virtual theater movement using open-source tools to reopen theaters. He established The Integrative Technology Lab at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, co-founded The 5th Wall Forum, and is the Artistic Director of #OnBoardXR, an anthology of live performances within a browser. brendanAbradley.com/futurestages.
Judith Okonkwo* (@Judithoko) is focused on driving the growth and adoption of XR technologies across Africa. She is the founder of Imisi 3D (headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria) a leading African immersive technology ecosystem developer; and the convener of AR/VR Africa, a continent wide initiative to connect XR professionals and enthusiasts. She is also a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on AR and VR.
Blair Renaud* (@Anticleric) speaks most often about VR, game development and user experience. He is a fierce advocate for independent developers, runing an indie event at Oculus/Facebook connect each year. He’s developing an indie VR game called Low-Fi.
Liv Erickson* (@misslivirose) shares deep reflections on their experience in tech. She is a product manager and former evangelist who has worked on interesting XR projects at Microsoft, High Fidelity, Mozilla (Hubs) and more. She is now at AWS Game Tech working as a PM on the Open 3D Engine.
Nancy Baker Cahill* (@4thWallApp) is a new media artist who examines power, selfhood, and embodied consciousness through drawing and shared immersive space. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of 4th Wall, a free Augmented Reality (AR) art platform exploring resistance and inclusive creative expression. Her projects have been featured in the New York Times, Frieze Magazine and others.
Jesse Alton (@mrmetaverse) is a founder and co-chair of the Open Metaverse Interoperability Group (@open_metaverse). He’s also a founder of an open XR community AngellXR and the open source XR portfolio site http://xrshowcase.xyz.
Priscilla Koukoui* (@Pri_op, Priscilla Koukoui) is founder of Ovisquare.com and an Emerging Tech Adventurer. She drives innovation in organizations by designing new ways of working; XR & emerging technologies as Business solutions. She also crafts multi-sensory XR creative stories, focusing on emotional design in immersive environments. And she is an XRSI strategic global advisor helping to build a safer XR immersive world.
Noah Zerkin* (@noazark) is an open source hardware developer who has been building prototype wearables and custom XR devices for over a decade. Currently residing in Shenzhen, he has been supplying kits of parts to help enthusiasts and developers build Project North Star AR headsets. He’s working towards launching a crowdfunding campaign to underwrite mass production of a refined North Star derivative.
Lucas Rizzotto (@_LucasRizzotto) describes himself as a “mad scientist,” but is best known for his unique and funny videos documenting his prototyping exploits in XR. Unfortunately, Lucas is becoming a bit too popular for this list. Netflix, please sign him up for a limited series at least.
Amy LaMeyer (@amylameyer) and Martina Welkhoff (@welkhoff) are tireless duo advocating for and directly supporting female entrepreneurs in XR. They organized and have now completed the first round of funding for their VC fund, WXRFund.
Sutu Eats Flies aka Stuart Campell (@sutu_eats_flies) is an artist and director, using technology to tell stories. He’s created commissioned VR art for Doctor Strange, Ready Player One, and Spider-Man Enter the spider-Verse; plus three VR documentaries; He is also known for his interactive comics including Nawlz, Neomad, Modern Polaxis and These Memories Won’t Last. He holds a Honorary Doctorate of Digital Media, is a 2017 Sundance Fellow and is the co-founder of EyeJack an Augmented Reality company.
Dr. Helen Papaginnis (@arstories) has been researching AR, creating novel art and stories for over 15 years. Her book, “Augmented Human” is a deep and thorough dive into the many ways that AR technology will impact humans. She consults about XR and is a professional speaker represented by The Lavin Agency. She is also an invited member of the World Economic Forum AR VR Global Future Council.
Greg Madison* (@gregmadison) is an Interaction Designer for Spatial Computing. He brings the skills of a magician to XR. He currently works at Unity and occasionally posts interesting videos of his work.
Aleissia Laidacker*(@Aleissia) is a Creative Technology Director, who builds XR based products and experiences. She was Head of Developer Experience at Magic Leap. Before that she directed the AI & Gameplay on the Assassin’s Creed games at Ubisoft. She is now working with companies such as The Mill and Spatial Activations, creating immersive experiences that embrace emerging technologies and design. She is passionate about building XR based experiences, platforms and tools, to push forward the Metaverse.
Doug Thompson* (@Dusanwriter) writes about the Metaverse, XR and spatial computing. He started 13 years ago with Metanomics, the first serious VR talk show. His XR work has supported military amputees. He produced a training program for Johns Hopkins and has helped draft XR strategies for the largest financial institute in Asia. His blog, Out of Scope, provides thought-provoking insights into emerging technologies. His company Noodle & Sprout is mapping major trends in XR using a unique proprietary algorithm.
Charity Everett (@charityARtiste) is a former Research Fellow at the MIT Open Documentary Lab and the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard. Her work with Go Back Fetch It has been recognized with the Nextant Rising Star Prize by the Virtual World Society. She is an XR augmentor and storyteller.
Juliana Loh* (@Splashmango) is a Creative Producer working hard to change the world by bringing imagination, critical thinking and a sense of play and wonder to the forefront. Drawn to global perspectives, she identifies with the storytellers, futurists and game changers in a world in need of a better vision. A talented XR artist (tiltbrush) and in-world designer (VR/AR), Juliana uses human centric design thinking to give structure, inspiration and meaning to ideas, people and places.www.julianaloh.cawww.splashmango.com
Layla Mah (@missquickstep) founded @InsightfulVR in 2016 to build a renderer optimized for VR/AR/Holographic Displays. She was AMD’s Lead Architect of VR and Advanced Rendering, the creator LiquidVR, and responsible for the company’s unified vision, strategy and architecture (both HW and SW), with respect to VR and other advanced rendering paradigms. Prior to her time at AMD, she also spent many years within the game industry, working on graphics engines and shipping games for both consoles and PCs.
Anselm Hook* (ʞooH ɯlǝsu∀/@anselm) is a developer who tends to work with designers and artists; notable projects include working closely with Terry Gilliam on the Zero Theorem, and at Xerox Parc and Mozilla on Augmented Reality interfaces as well as writing several video games. He is passionate about new monetization models for the web and 3D.
Reginé Gilbert* (@reg_inee) is a designer and professor at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering in the Integrated Design and Media program. She’s researching inclusion and accessibility in XR with VEIL (Virtual Experience Interaction Lab), is on the advisory board for the W3C, and is a part of the coordination and engagement team of XR Access. She is the author of Inclusive Design for a Digital World and is working on a second book related to Spatial Human Computing.
Joanna Popper* (@JoannaPopper) is an award-winning media executive currently leading @HP’s VR Go-to-Market initiatives. Recently Joanna was executive producer on @DoubleEyeCo “Finding Pandora X” (winner of Venice Film Festival’s Best VR, SXSW’s Audience Award) and on Tribeca premiere “Breonna’s Garden” (to honor the life of Breonna Taylor). Joanna is involved in organizations to drive inclusivity in XR including @WXRfund & created a Twitter list of XR women to follow. For job hunters, she tweets about #XRJobs.
Sophia Batchelor* (@brainonsilicon) studies the neuroscience of immersive technologies. She is a PhD student with the University of Leeds and affiliated researcher with the Whitaker Lab at the Alan Turing Institute. Her aim is to support the translation of academic findings on how we learn in VR into strategic interventions for the learning and development of children in underserved areas of the UK.
Jay Wright (@jaywrightnow) has been working in augmented reality since 2008. He’s best known for co-founding Vuforia at Qualcomm. Upon selling Vuforia to PTC in 2015, Jay focused on the enterprise market and launched Vuforia Chalk — a remote assistance tool described as the “future of education, service, and support.” Jay took on a new mission with Campfire3D in 2018 — to deliver on the promise of holographic collaboration for design and engineering. +
Darragh Dandurand* (@DarraghDandy) is an award-winning creative director, strategist, photojournalist, and curator. She has worked with a number of top media companies, creative studios and institutions. In the past year, she served as a guest curator for SXSW by creating and moderating the first Future of Fashion Technology track for the festival, as well as co-hosted and organized the first Women of Spatial: a Creative Tech and Start-up Summit with Verizon, The WXR Fund and the Artizen Fund.
timoni west* (@timoni) is a deep thinker on issues of UX design in XR. They are now VP for AR/VR for Unity, after having lead teams building many of Unity’s XR tools. They are passionate about social justice and equity.
Alex Bowles (@alexqgb) is a former film and television producer who transitioned to immersive media with the launch of VR’s first generation of consumer hardware. He was attracted to the field by the historical role of spatial technologies, where sudden advances have triggered far-reaching changes in social, political, and economic life. He serves as Founder of Inversion, an immersive media consultancy that helps clients navigate the transition from two dimensional to three dimensional media.”
Robbie Tilton*(@robbietilton) is the Founder and Creative Director of Wonder Assembly, a creative studio focused on making digital toys. Its goal is to inspire the next generation of kids by making computer software more playful, dimensional and memorable. Previously, Robbie worked at Apple and Google and has extensive design experience working on future computing platforms, augmented reality, user interfaces, and contextual computing.
Nathalie Mathe (LinkedIn) is a pioneering Virtual Reality creator and a globally recognized consultant, educator, and public speaker. As founder of NativeVR studio, she creates immersive experiences with a transformative and social impact. Her VR film UTURN raised awareness on the gender gap in the tech industry. It was nominated for best interactive experience at Raindance, FIVARS, screened at major international film festivals. She has contributed to VR projects for JauntVR, Condition One, Google, Facebook, and World Vision.
Matt Miesnieks* (@mattmiesnieks) most recently was the CEO & co-founder of 6D.ai (sold to Niantic) which defined & (along with Ori Inbar) popularized the idea of the AR Cloud, the 3D digital twin of the real world, connecting the real & virtual. He has spent the last 11 years working to build startups that build the software to let AR realize its potential. His writing & speaking has influenced the entire XR industry, and he is now working on an exciting new startup which will show what the AR Cloud is capable of.
Deirdre V. Lyons (@deirdrelyons)began her VR work in two 180 films. She was a cast of The Under Presents, and The Under Presents: Tempest and a performer in Finding Pandora X. A founding member of Ferryman Collective, she produced and performed in PARA and Krampusnacht, a finalist in the PGA Innovation Award, as well as The Severance Theory: Welcome to Respite which world premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and had its international premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
Rosie Summers (@VR_Rosie) is a 3D animator and award winning Virtual Reality Artist, bringing characters and worlds to life in new dimensions. As a live VR art performer, Rosie continuously wows audiences for numerous events and festivals and clients such as YouTube, BBC Studios and The British Library. She worked on the released VR game titles; Angry Birds Movie 2 VR: Under Pressure and Zombieland VR. Since 2015 Rosie has made it her mission to spread the magic of this powerful medium to the masses.
Adario Strange (@adariostrange) first delved into the world of virtual reality back in the early ’90s when he began testing his traditional web development skills within the open source platform known as VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language). Previously, Strange wrote about tech for the likes of Wired and PC Mag, and later focused his full attention on VR and augmented reality for Mashable as a tech analyst, and then as the editor-in-chief of Next Reality.
Andreea Ion Cojocaru (@andreeavr) is CEO of @numenavr, who comes to XR with the keen mind of an architect and social scientist. Her thoughts on the looming issues with avatars and identity run deep and wide. She believes immersive tech opens us to a new conceptualization of space and a wider exploration of its social and experiential richness.
Harvey Ball (Twitter) is founder/Creator of Open-source, cross platform toolkit called http://VRTK.io used by more than 30k devs. He has been a developer for almost 20 years, mostly building enterprise systems in the web space (and non web applications). Recently turning developing for VR as the platform possibilities are awesome and are greatly benefited from getting as many people developing for VR as possible.
Rebecca Evans (@rebecca_evans) is an Experience Designer for people, places and products. Combining a background in project management with education, healthcare and the arts, she has created and produced original Virtual Reality and Transmedia worlds, games, events, 360 narratives, and multiple live VR theatrical performances. Utilizing lenses of shifting realities, her pieces are designed to bring people together and delight in breaking invisible boundaries to self-expression and immediacy.
Terry xR. Schussler* (@schussler) is an award-winning software developer currently driving @deutschetelekom’s XR HMD initiatives as Senior Director, Spatial Computing. Terry co-produced the XRCollaboration.comwebsite — part of his effort to inspire us to use XR technologies to improve our interactions with each other and the real world. He regularly mentors innovators trying to make a difference in XR through Deutsche Telekom’s startup accelerator hub:raum and other programs.
Jessica Outlaw (LinkedIn) is a behavioral scientist and the founder of The Extended Mind. She creates decision tools to advance social and behavioral science into emerging technologies. She is the author of a book on cognitive biases in product development and another on decision-making. She teaches an online course on research and leadership skills every Spring: The Tech Ethics Toolkit.
Sara Phinn (@saraphinn) the host and creator of Dreamseed VR, is one of the foremost journalists and ambassadors for the exploration of psychedelics, XR/VR and it’s overlap with society, and popular culture. Between lengthy interviews with industry trailblazers such as Phong (the co-progenitor of Microdose VR), and visionary artist Jake Korbin, to deep-dive video essays on the nature of consciousness and digital expression. Sara Phinn’s art continues to push the envelope of what XR is and what it can be.
Peter Nolen (@taqtile) is the 3D technical lead at Taqtile working on their Manifest platform. He is a proponent of bringing XR solutions to non technical users with intuitive interfaces. Before working at Taqtile, he had a varied career working in games at Octopi / SOE Tucson and Kihon, and has been working with the Unity platform for nearly a decade.
Lee Cummings (LinkedIn) is Creative Director of Tiny Rebel Games and a veteran console game designer and producer, has spent the last several years on the forefront of mobile augmented reality as the Creative Director behind the innovative XR real-time story adventure, Wallace & Gromit: The Big Fix Up (shortlisted for 2 Cannes Lions Awards), as well as the subsequent recent release of Wallace & Gromit: Fix Up the City, an epic world-scale AR experience now live in 3 cities.
Cy Wise (@cyceratops) With 15+ years of games industry tenure, Cy has most recently helped to grow VR game studio Owlchemy Labs, creators of award winning Job Simulator and Rick and Morty: VR. Her expertise spans interaction design, human-centric play, and building / maintaining culture within organizations and communities. When left unattended, she also writes tons of jokes and dialog for all of her projects. She is a founder of AbsurdJoy.
Selma Sabera Ruzdijic (LinkedIn) is an award-winning creative technologist and executive producer. She is an alumna of companies like ILM, Pixar, and Meow Wolf. She has innovated cross-reality experiences that combine physical sculptures with holograms using AR glasses, like “The Navigator” which won an Auggie Award in 2019. Currently, she is innovating at Left Field Labs with spatial computing and at Chicken Bone FX with virtual production.
Elgin-Skye McLaren (@elginskye) is doing amazing work as the PM of Hubs and knows more than most how the raw materials of the web interact with the possibility of the immersive web.
Laura Mingail (@Laura_Canada) roots her thought leadership in the art of magic, and its ability to advance storytelling and technology. As a media contributor and invited speaker at leading international events, she offers insights and ideas that focus on the creation and monetization of emerging forms of at-home and location-based immersive experiences. She founded Archetypes & Effects to support creators and brands with the development and launch of their spatial and 2D content.
Amber Osborne* (@MissDestructo) is the Marketing and Partnerships Manager for Mozilla Hubs, a 3D collaboration platform, and an advisor to Tilt5. She has specialized in the marketing, community, business and product strategy of virtual world and immersive, 3D spatial platforms for 5+ years. She was CMO of VR enterprise collaboration software, Rumii, and a Co-Founder and CMO of a machine learning based social media software company, Meshfire.
Galit Ariel (@galitariel) is a TED speaker, creative and author of “Augmenting Alice — The Future of Identity, Experience & Reality”. She runs Future Memory Inc., which consults on future technologies.
Mark Billinghurst* (@marknb00) is Director of the Empathic Computing Laboratory at the University of South Australia (Australia) and the University of Auckland (New Zealand). He earned a PhD in 2002 and has published over 600 papers in AR, VR, Empathic Computing, collaborative systems, and related topics. He is well known for co-developing the ARToolKit AR tracking library, among other innovations, and in 2019 was given the ISMAR Career Impact Award for lifetime contribution to AR research and commercialization.
Chris Madsen (@deep_rifter) moved from a 20 year career in behavioral work to focus on the disruptive potential of Social VR. Roles have included Social VR Liaison at Road to VR, co-founder of Utah VR group, Ambassador for Edge of Discovery, Director of AR/VR at Morph 3D/Tafiwhere he co-patented ‘Persistent Virtual Identity Systems and Methods’ and now with the Immersive VR Education ENGAGE team where he works with educators and businesses exploring how to leverage collaborative VR across a variety of use cases.
Carrie Shaw, MS (twitter, linkedin) is a medical illustrator, public health educator, and CEO & Founder of Embodied Labs, an immersive caregiver training platform. Carrie’s vision is for humans to have connected and healthy lives through shared immersive experiences. Through her work building Embodied Labs, Carrie’s mission is to accelerate global behavior change for healthier aging at scale by positively impacting the health of self and others through experiential connections.
Stella Cannefax* (@simulacracid) is an XR developer focused on creator tools. After pioneering procedural content methods for AR at Unity, she is now on a long vacation. She has commented on many industry issues and encourages thinking about the future of XR through a critical, materialist lens.
Sandy Ressler* (@sressler) created one of the first demonstrations of a 3D environment with The Web in a 1994 paper. In 1995, he published a VRML space called “House of Immersion”, which proved to be a critical test case for VRML browser plugins. From 1997 through mid 2002 he ran About.com’s Web3d page, producing weekly news about the web3d industry which became the go-to place for web3d info. He is an active participant with formal ISO standards for VRML, X3D, glTF.
Katie Hoolahan (LinkedIn) became interested in how gamification in VR can help chronic pain patients. After receiving a BSc in Applied Sport & Exercise Science and during her MSc Biomedical Engineering, she founded Virtually Healthy to bring gamified VR into the world of health and fitness. Their goal is to increase engagement in exercise and improve the quality of life for many. She has since been on a mission to provide the vital research necessary to support bringing VR games into the health & fitness industries.
Michelle Brown (@thebadlament) is an Australian based new media artistfocused on virtual and augmented reality and creating storytelling experiences. She’s created multiple VR music videos and her work has been featured in the Museum of Other Realities, Cannes XR, Toronto New Wave Festival, DreamlandXR Festival, CADAF, Github Universe and she has worked with Snapchat, Google and more.
David Alan Smith (Twitter) is the CTO and Founder of croquet.io, reinventing distributed applications. David built his first HMD in 1986. In 1987, he created The Colony, the first real time 3D adventure game/shooter. He created Virtus Walkthrough in 1990, the first real-time 3D design application for personal computers. Smith also co-founded Red Storm Entertainment with author Tom Clancy and co-created the Rainbow Six game franchise.+
Kai Frazier (Twitter) is an educator turned EdTech entrepreneur passionate about using tech to provide opportunities for underestimated communities. She is the founder & CEO of Kai XR, which provides interactive (360 ˚& VR) virtual field trips where kids can explore the world from their living room. Her company is backed by Techstars & T-Mobile and has been featured in Forbes, NBC, the Steve Harvey Show & more.
Dulce Baerga / Dulce Dotcom*(Twitter / IG) has been producing interactive content for over 20 years. She is currently pushing the edges of the immersive web and augmented reality, creating XR MVPs for clients and collaboration projects. Immersive theater and mixed reality storytelling are two verticals of focus where she’s been creating production pipelines and UI/UX mechanics. Iterating on and streamlining new XR pipelines to create base MVPs is Dulce’s primary directive while pushing the XR envelope.
Dr Annie On Ni WAN (LinkedIn) is an international digital media scholar, primarily research interests in adopting extended realities technologies for well-being and for social good. She earned a Ph.D at the University of Washington in Digital Arts and Experimental Media. She is currently a Course Leader for BA (Hons) Virtual Reality and the Principal Investigator/ Project Director of ACEIT, a project helping small UK companies in XR. She grew up in Singapore and UK, has been living in Sweden and the US.
Wil McReynolds*(@DesignGuy1975) is CVO/CTO/Founder of KP9 Interactive, a computer vision software development company. Wil is an architect of innovation working with augmented reality since 2011. He was a content partner for Metaio (acquired by Apple in 2015). Wil assembled a team to create a platform-agnostic AR technology stack including the WorldCAST engine to help democratize XR — starting with AR. Living on the spectrum, Wil is a fierce advocate of disruptive technologies to add value to everyday life.
Arwa Michelle Mboya* (LinkedIn) became interested in XR while working in the slums of Nairobi. She studied Media Arts & Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, doing research in inclusive design for immersive experiences, centering the imaginations of women in in Kenya. Arwa found the Oculus Go was not designed for black hair. So she designed and built a strap system that could work with a variety of black hairstyles. Arwa is now a designer at Magic Leap, focusing on inputs and interactions in a new spatial computing paradigm.
Kiira Benzing* (@kiira) is an award-winning director crossing the mediums of live theatre, hybrid cinema and virtual reality. VR productions include: Loveseat, Runnin’ and Cardboard City. Her latest production Finding Pandora X featured Broadway actors and won Best VR Immersive User Experience at the Venice Film Festival 2020 and the Audience Award at SXSW 2021. She is the founder of the Virtual Repertory Theatre and of Double Eye Studios which specializes in IO VRA experiences and virtual production.
Chelsea Klukas* (@chelscore) is a founder of both MakeFashion and Lumen Couture that combine high tech and high fashion. Her “Lumen Couture” has gained international attention as the first of its kind. She invented a face mask that displays text, images, and videos customizable through an app. She was previously a UX designer/manager at Amazon, BeauCoo, and Poynt. Klukas was awarded a Doctorate of Fine Arts h.c. at Watkins College in 2019. She is currently a product design manager at Oculus / FRL.
Max Noir (@MaxN0ir) has been traveling the world for 7 years, researching methodologies of dissecting thought. She is dedicated to using immersive technology to build empathy through story-telling of people’s self-determined narratives. Max leads the US branch for FXG, a China-based XR production, hardware and market entry company. She is working to build an XR ecosystem in Uganda to put immersive technology in the hands of more people. Max also hosts a weekly talkshow about the use-cases for VR, called Lunch Hour VR.
Brittan Heller*(@brittanheller) may be the only “non-XR native” on this list. XR needs a legal policy framework and she’s on the case. She studied human rights and immersive technology at the Harvard Kennedy School. She advises companies and engineers on the implications of XR technologies and produces VR/AR pieces to promote civil rights. Brittan has prosecuted genocide and was the Jane Doe in one of the first cyberharassment cases. She is a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School.
Ben Vance is a VR veteran with roots in early C.A.V.E. systems, but is best known for his space exploration experience Irrational Exuberance: Prologue, and his work on WeVR’s The Blu. He is a founding member of Glitch City, a pioneering independent game collective based in LA, Buffalo Vision, an interactive VR and game studio, and is co-founder of FLOAT, a VR/AR art studio. His work has shown with Acute Art, SFMOMA, Sundance, SXSW, and has been featured in The Verge, BBC News, and more.
Anastasia Devana* (@AnastasiaDevana) is an internationally recognized expert in spatial audio for XR. Her work spans technical and artistic domains. As Audio Director at Magic Leap, she built and led a world-class team, shipped award-winning projects, authored patents, and played a key role in advancing the Magic Leap’s spatial audio technology. She speaks at conferences and workshops. In 2020 Anastasia founded Hear XR — a spatial audio and XR consulting agency.
Siciliana Trevino* (@iSiciliana) is the writer and producer of War of the Worlds: Invasion, the pioneering audio AR podcast and action-adventure game. She is the Chief Transportation Officer of Aesthetic Mobile Division, in AltSpace featuring a 3-decker DeLorean artcar. Her 3D worlds inspire players to overcome isolation and create shared moments of delight. Siciliana is a PM at @AlcoveVR, the award-winning Social VR app created by Cezara Windrem and AARP Innovations Labs.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland (@ImMichaelaTH) is a multi-racial Emmy,Webby, and Sheffield Doc/Fest award-winning documentarian, who combines experimental content with traditional mediums. As a consultant, strategist, and public speaker, her work has been featured by TIME, Forbes,The Guardian, Cannes Film Festival, New York Public Library, Tribeca Film Festival, and more. She raises awareness on privilege, neurodivergent, differing physical abilities, ethnicities, sexual identifications, and age.
Eric Provencher * (@prvncher) is a Senior Research Engineer working on Advanced XR UX Research at Unity Labs. Eric got his start in games working on his own indie VR titles, and spent some time working closely with Microsoft in the healthcare XR space. He went on to build MRTK-Quest, an expansion to the Spatial Interaction framework MRTK, with a heavy focus on open sourcing multi-modal interaction for hands, and improving accessibility of hand interaction development. He works alongside @GregMadison and @3duaun.
Keram Malicki-Sanchez* (@kmalickisanchez) created the VRTOconference and the FIVARS festival, both which he has been curating and producing since 2015. His fiercely independent productions have given a platform to many new voices from around the globe and blur the lines between audience and proscenium. Keram is a VR and indie game developer, and has contributed to books around the body, identity rights, ethics, psychogeography, new digital economies and virtual worlds, and ontology on digital and spatial media.
Javier Busto* (@_JavierBusto) is an XR Sr Interaction Designer at Unity. Previously he worked at Microsoft Mixed Reality and Magic Leap Studios where he led UI/UX design for multiple published experiences on both platforms, ranging from virtual collaboration (Microsoft Mesh), spatial storytelling (The Last Light), and MR physics sandbox (Project: Create). He is an accessibility advocate who believes in designing inclusive XR experiences.
Antony Vitillo aka TonyVT SkarredGhost* (@Skarredghost) is an AR/VR developer, entrepreneur, and blogger. He is mostly known for his blog The Ghost Howls through which he creates informative content for the XR community, tutorials and interviews. He has worked on cutting-edge projects like HitMotion:Reloaded, a MR fitness game made with his agency New Technology Walkers , and Welcome To The Other Side, the concert that had 75M views worldwide developed with the studio VRrOOm.
Leila Amirsadeghi (@LeilaCNX) is a producer of real and virtual events and festivals, including E3, the Unreal Garden and BRCvr. She is co-author of the book “A Handbook of Research on the Global Impacts & Roles of Immersive Media”, founder of XR consultancy MESH, a member of Spatial Activations, and advisor to Enklu. Leila sits on AIXR’s LBE Advisory Board. She now works on the Microsoft Mixed Reality team as the Director of Live Events at AltspaceVR, and is launching the Unreal Garden 2.0 in 2021.
Dilan Shah (@dilan_shah) is co-ounder & CEO of YUR. He is a published writer, long-time developer, and helped build Unity’s new industrial XR applications training resources featuring projects across ARCore and ARKit, Hololens, Oculus Go, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Dilan is an early adopter of spatial computing (VR and AR), and an autodidact with a background in Business Administration and Computer Science from USC & part of the Gitcoin Kernel Fellowship.
I want to give special shout out to just a few of the best known names in XR. They don’t need my help for spotlight. While they most often spotlight others making news, they have certainly shared original ideas of their own:
Kent Bye* (@kentbye) is an avid podcaster, documenting over 1000 original voices in XR on his VoicesOfVR podcast. He’s also an advocate for privacy, fostering coherent ethical principles at many conferences and out of sight. Please check Kent’s archives for in-depth interviews with many of the people on this list.
Where are All the Big Company XR Folks?
Turns out, there are perhaps thousands more originals tucked away inside the biggest companies, focusing on prototyping, R&D or shipping products like Spectacles, HoloLens, and so on. We’re trying to figure out a way to honor all of these fine people without necessarily publicizing them in the same way.
Alas, you don’t always get to see their ideas — unless you work with them or until a product ships — because they’re generally not allowed to talk about it.
I’m honored to have worked with so many original thinkers inside Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Disney and know many that are currently inside Facebook, Snap (and more) that I would love to include.
Some big company employees do tweet publicly, like my former colleague Sterling Crispin, who shares his amazing independent work as an artist. And James Powderly, shared some great ideas while he was between jobs.
Let’s figure out a way to honor and respect all of these great people without putting them in an unwanted spotlight.
What about Famous Execs and Influencers?
I’ve named a few CEOs above, but we could easily name another 30 well-known leaders, like Rony Abovitz, Philip Rosedale, John Hanke, and Tim Cook, that deserve credit for bringing XR ideas and credibility to the masses.
While they are all originals in their own right, it’s difficult to give credit to the leaders of companies without also giving credit to those who work for them. Companies are team efforts. It’s like crediting the owner, coach, captain or quarterback for a team’s win. So I think it’s better to just name the overall company as being innovative — but that’s another list.
Influencers provide a valuable service by shining their spotlight on other people. It takes a lot of legwork, self-marketing and tasteful self-promotion to get to their current followings and beyond. But to be included here, I looked for truly original individual contributions as well. Influencers tend to be more like editors or like ferry operators, taking good ideas across the river.
For this article, I hope it’s clear by now that I really wanted to focus on the people who are sharing great ideas with the world, but don’t yet get as much spotlight or credit as they deserve. These voices more often keep their heads down and quietly make the world go around.
Don’t Forget the Original Originals
There are more voices that we should rightly include, based on their foundational contributions to the field. I’m thinking of people like Ivan Sutherland, Tony Parisi, Jacki Morie, Jaron Lanier, Brenda Laurel, Tom Furness, Nonny de la Peña, John Gaeta, Steve Mann, and Mark Bolas. They all have Wikipedia pages and substantial followings.
This group of OGs probably deserves its own unique list and article to help newer people appreciate the amazing work that’s foundational to what exists today. I need to rest a bit first if I decide to take that on.
end note: I marked bios with a “+” where I have an advisory relationship with the person’s company.