Oculus Research Q&A: Kevin MacKenzie

Welcome back to the third installment in our Oculus Research Q&A series with the team behind our multifocal perceptual testbed. So far, we’ve heard from Optical Scientist Yusufu Sulai and Research Scientist Marina Zannoli. Today, we take you behind the scenes with Research Scientist Kevin MacKenzie.

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Tell us a little about your background.

Kevin MacKenzie: After completing my PhD in Vision Science with Laurie Wilcox, at York University’s Centre for Vision Research, I spent several years as a post-doctoral fellow under the tutelage of Dr. Simon WattWolfson Centre for Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience, Bangor University, Psychology Department. I subsequently landed at Microsoft in 2012, working first as a User Experience Researcher supporting experiences and hardware design for the Hololens project, then as a Human Factors Engineer with the Devices Design group in Building 87, again supporting Hololens as well as other hardware products. I left Microsoft in 2016 to join Oculus Research.

What brought you to Oculus?

KM: I joined Oculus Research because of the level of scientific rigor and openness the organization has. Collaborating with best-in-class research scientists and engineers gives me a kid-in-the-candy-store feeling on many days.

What’s your favorite thing about working at Oculus Research?

KM: Day-to-day, I can tackle many different problems. Also, it’s incredibly exciting to work in a place where it’s rare to be able to answer any experimental question on my own. The complexity of a lot of the research questions we’re addressing requires top-level expertise across multiple domains. It’s a treat being able to work alongside some of the best scientists and researchers in the world.

What was your very first VR experience? How about your most memorable one?

KM: This really depends on how you define VR. An experience that could give you the impression of being somewhere else? Then my first experience with VR was the View-Masterwhen I was a kid. Even these rudimentary stereoscopic displays had the ability to transport me to another world. I remember a reel I had of scenes with dinosaurs—and spending tons of time imagining I was present in front of a giant tyrannosaur and being in awe of the “sense of presence.” Now we have the Oculus Dreamdeck demo, with a dynamic moving tyrannosaur that appears to exist as part of my world in VR.

My most memorable experience is somewhat more academic. My first view of a Julesz random-dot stereogram during my undergraduate degree fascinated me. The fact that the visual system could extract surfaces and 3D information from what appeared to be simple, ambiguous textures convinced me that vision science and perceptual research were what I wanted to do. It’s amazing to think that 20 years after my first exposure to these simple stimuli, I have the privilege of working with the talented people I’m surrounded by and am supported doing work and research that I love.

How do you think VR and AR will impact our daily lives in the years to come?

KM: I’m most excited about the potential that AR has in changing how we interact with information by providing instant, rich access to any information we need, when we need it. The second most compelling thing that gets me excited about VR and AR is the ability for the technology to transport me anywhere in the world and gain experiences across cultures while potentially communicating with many different people. This has the potential of being transformative in how we can understand other people and cultures and a way to shorten the geographic divide of the world.

Thanks to Kevin for sharing his thoughts. We’ll be back tomorrow with another Oculus Research Q&A!

— The Oculus Team