The Short Bio
James Oliver, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, is the Director of the Virtual Reality Applications Center. He is also co-founder and director of Iowa State University’s inter-disciplinary graduate program in Human Computer Interaction.
Oliver’s current research, teaching, and economic development activities involve a wide array of human computer interaction technologies, encompassing computer graphics, geometric modeling, virtual reality, and collaborative networks for applications in product development and complex system operation.
Oliver’s industry experience includes serving as Vice President of Product Development at Cognicity, Inc. a Twin-Cities startup focused on Internet-based entertainment marketing, and heading product development for Engineering Animation Inc. (NASDAQ:EAII), where he led the creation of a unique Internet-based visual collaboration tool for supply chain integration. Oliver is a Fellow of the ASME, holds three U.S. patents, and is the recipient of numerous professional honors and awards.
The Long Version
After graduating with my Ph.D. from Michigan State University in 1986, I began my career with International TechneGroup, Inc., developing commercial software and consulting in product development process enhancement for several major automotive manufacturers. I joined the faculty of SUNY Buffalo in 1988, developing a successful externally funded research program. In 1991, Iowa State University recruited me to help organize the Iowa Center for Emerging Manufacturing Technology, predecessor of the Virtual Reality Applications Center, and I served as its Associate Director from 1993 to 1997.
In 1993, I was awarded tenure and named Associate Director of ICEMT, focusing on day-to-day operations, as well as fund raising and strategic planning. My 1992 ONR grant was the first major project at the center focused on applied virtual reality (VR), helping to raise then funds needed to build the C2, ICEMT’s first surround screen immersive projection technology device. In 1996, I led a group of colleagues in obtaining the center’s largest industrially funded grant to date: a two-year, $450K grant from Deere and Company to investigate of VR applications in product development.
In early 1996, I began consulting for Engineering Animation Incorporated (NASDAQ: EAII): a software company providing computer visualization solutions to the world’s leading automotive, aerospace, heavy equipment, telecommunications, and consumer products manufacturers. As my involvement with EAI grew, I became increasingly motivated by the direct impact I could have on industrial productivity. I worked at EAI full-time during summer 1997 and half-time through the fall of 1997.
In January 1998, I began an unpaid leave of absence from ISU to join EAI full time. I contributed to EAI’s success in a number of roles, culminating in an assignment to conceive, design, and lead the development of an Internet solution called e-Vis. E-Vis pioneered secure, Internet-enabled visual collaboration to facilitate the integration of manufacturers with their supply chains. As the technical leader of this product, I interacted with many different manufacturers, exploring how emerging information technologies could improve their product development processes. I also worked closely with IT leaders such as SAP, Oracle, I2, and the major CAD/CAM and PDM product vendors, which deepened my understanding of the complex infrastructure needed to power today’s manufacturing enterprises.
In the Fall of 2000, I accepted the position of Vice President of Product Development at Cognicity, a Minneapolis-based startup company focused on Internet-based entertainment marketing. Founded by a distinguished University of Minnesota faculty member, Cognicity was based on a unique wavelet-based digital watermarking technology and an innovative business model. The following year Cognicity was acquired by Digimarc, and I returned to the ISU faculty.
My experience at EAI and Cognicity has convinced me that the universities that will thrive in the coming decades will be those which most successfully embrace information technology. My decision to return to Iowa State University was motivated by my desire to help it become one of those leading universities.
At ISU, I am the Director of the Virtual Reality Applications Center (VRAC) and its interdepartmental graduate program in Human Computer Interaction (HCI). At VRAC, I recently led fund raising, specification, and management of a $5M upgrade to the C6—now the world’s highest resolution (100M pixel) fully immersive VR room.
My current research, teaching, and economic development activities involve a wide array of human computer interaction technologies, encompassing computer graphics, geometric modeling, virtual reality, and collaborative networks for applications in product development and complex system operation. My experiences in research and business have guided my research directions and contributions. I know I am a better educator and researcher because of my experience outside of ISU and enjoy bringing my particular blend of experience to the benefit of ISU and its students.