From 1980 to 1989 Bob 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 research led to the development of a world-first laparoscopic cholecystectomy basic surgical skills simulator, MISTVR. MISTVR 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. 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 2019, the team was awarded the “Innovation in Medicine and Health” Award at the Inaugural West Midlands Tech Awards, and in 2020 the Innovation Award from the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors for Mixed Reality research in defence medicine.