Bob Stone

Recent developments in the world of eXtended Realities (XR – Virtual, Augmented and Mixed) offer significant potential to make a real difference across the healthcare domain and especially in the delivery of engaging and motivational techniques for supporting mental and physical rehabilitation.  Yet, we are still witnessing many examples of projects where “technology push”, rather than intense focus on the unique needs of the end user, are dominating projects.  Professor Stone’s keynote will focus on the important human-centred lessons learned from a range of civilian and military rehabilitation projects, from 2010 to the present day, including the ReVERE studies (Restorative Virtual Environments for Rehabilitation), the aims of which were to develop and evaluate prototype research methodologies to aid the design and implementation of novel interactive technology-based systems (and VR in particular) to enhance the rehabilitation of patients recovering from critical illness in Intensive Care Units.

A “veteran” of the “XR” – Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality – communities, Robert (Bob) Stone is Emeritus Professor of XR and Human Factors within the School of Engineering at the University of Birmingham, Director of the University’s Human Interface Technologies Team. He is also an independent consultant in Human-Centred Design, XR and related interactive technologies, with a career spanning over 40 years in both commercial and academic organisations.  Bob joined academia in 2003 (with a full Chair in Interactive Multimedia Systems), after a career as a Director of a small commercial Virtual Reality (VR) company he founded in 1989 in Manchester.  He graduated from University College London in 1979 with a BSc in Psychology, and in 1981 with an MSc in Ergonomics.  Bob is a Fellow of the UK’s Chartered  Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors, a Chartered Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and an ACM Siggraph Pioneer.  From 1980 to 1989 he was involved in defence human factors research, later in the rôle of group leader at British Aerospace’s Sowerby Research Centre in Bristol, UK.  In 1989, Bob left BAe to join the UK’s National Advanced Robotics Research Centre in Salford, supported by the DTI and a range of industrial shareholders.  There he formed a team of human factors and software specialists in order to develop VR technologies for sophisticated mobile and manipulative robots, including the Teletact I and II Gloves – the world’s first tactile feedback glove systems for VR and telepresence applications.  After a successful 3 years of R&D, the Robotics Centre became commercial (Intelligent Systems Solutions Limited) and, following an appearance on the BBC’s 9 O’Clock News in January, 1993, he brought together (initially) 12 companies to fund the world’s first industrial collaborative project addressing the commercial uses of VR.  VR Solutions was launched as a company in its own right in October, 1995.


During his time in industry, Bob undertook research into the rôle of human factors/ergonomics in the implementation of VR, with regular contributions to VR applications projects in the fields of defence, surgery, heritage, engineering and health and safety aspects of VR.  He was the Research Director of the UK Human Factors Integration Defence Technology Centre for over 6 years (during its existence between 2003 and 2012), and it is from within this Centre that many of his team’s projects originate, covering human-centred design and evaluation methodologies for applications as varied as close-range weapons training and support for surgical and mental health therapies, submarine safety awareness, IED search and disposal training and unmanned systems operation, including the use of low-cost drones for remote sensor data visualisation.


His early medical Human Factors research led to the development of a suite of unique simulated perceptual-motor tasks for a world-first laparoscopic cholecystectomy basic surgical skills simulator, MISTVRMISTVR was marketed for over 10 years by Mentice of Sweden and was adopted by the European Surgical Institute (Norderstedt, Germany) in 1998 as a de facto training technology for keyhole surgery training.  Bob’s Human Factors efforts were also instrumental in the development of a prototype mastoidectomy simulator, funded by the EU as part of a project called IERAPSI.  Between 1997 and 2005, he held the position of Director of Virtual Reality Studies for the North of England Wolfson Centre for Minimally Invasive Therapy (Manchester Royal Infirmary).    From 1999 to 2002, Bob sat on a working party on behalf of the Royal College of Surgeons’ Joint Committee on Higher Surgical Training (JCHST) investigating the assessment of surgical training and competence.  In January 2000, he passed the Royal College of Surgeons of England’s Basic Surgical Skills course.  Today, he works closely with the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine and a number of hospital trusts, researching the use of VR for post-operative restoration and rehabilitation programmes for military and civilian patients in Intensive Care and a unique Mixed Reality solution for the training of future defence medics deployed as part of Medical Emergency Response Teams.


In 2011, Bob was awarded the MoD Chief Scientific Advisor’s Commendation for his contributions to Defence Science & Technology, the highest award given to an individual by that Governmental Department.  In July 2017, Bob and his University team were awarded the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network Innovative Team of the Year Award, in recognition of their achievements in VR for healthcare applications.  In 2018, Bob was awarded the Medical LiveWire Global Award for “Excellence in VR Healthcare Technology” and in 2019, the “Innovation in Medicine and Health” Award at the Inaugural West Midlands Tech Awards.  Bob and his academic team were awarded the 2020 Innovation Award from the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors for their Mixed Reality research in defence medicine.