CyberEdge Journal

Friday, September 21, 2007

Let us appreciate Randy Pausch

I just learned that my friend, Randy Pausch, has pancreatic cancer and is not expected to recover.

Randy caught my attention in 1991 in New Orleans. At the CHI ’91 conference, he was the talk of the town after his presentation, “Virtual Reality on $5 a Day”. Keep in mind that in 1991, a modestly usable VR system cost a cool quarter million, so Randy’s demonstration of building a system on the cheap was mind blowing.

Here is what I wrote in CyberEdge Journal #3, May/June 1991:
The next speaker was Randy Pausch, who excited the audience with his explanation of a home-brew VR-based system which cost only $5.00 per day. Lacking an adequate budget to purchase a VR system, Pausch built his own. He combined two mechanically linked Private Eye displays, a Mattel PowerGlove, and one Polhemus 3Space tracker. The system provides 720 by 280 spatial resolution and displays wire-frame graphics generated by a 80386-based, 2.5 MIP, PC clone system. Including the voice input which he intends to add, Pausch calculates the total system cost at under $5000, which when amortized over the typical three year life of the equipment, equals a cost of about $4.55 per day. He is now soliciting support to build 10-20 such systems, providing access to VR to an entire graduate class.

Here's Randy at CHI '91, demonstrating his home-made HMD.

In my effort to be a calm and cool journalist, this meager mention hardly reflects the excitement Randy stirred in the CHI crowd, and through the fledgling VR industry. While SGI and NASA were struggling to build systems that would fit into one room and cost less than a couple of houses, Randy built a usable system for less than $5,000. It was amazing, and he was the toast of the conference.

This was just a precursor of what Randy’s imagination and energy would enable him to do. He became quite the celebrity from the $5 a day VR system, and was able to leverage that fame to a position where he was able to lead the development of ALICE, an easy-to-use world-building package. He moved from the University of Virginia to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, where he established a well-respected lab, and continued to great work.

Drop Randy a line and let him know that he made a difference. I know I’m going to miss him.

You may have heard about Randy's inspiring "Last Lecture." Find it here: Randy Pausch's Last Lecture

To make a donation to help conquer pancreatic cancer, make donations payable to UPCI/Pancreatic Cancer Research/Liver Pancreas Institute. Add a memo to note that your gift is given in Randy Pausch's honor and to support the research of Dr. Herb Zeh. Mail to: Development Dept., UPMC Cancer Pavilion, Suite 1B, 5150 Centre Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15232. You can also contact Kambra McConnel in the Development Dept. for the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute at 412-623-4700.

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