As we journey into 2017, it’s a good time to look back at 2016 and those who inspired us, encouraged us and made a difference in the virtual and augmented reality community. Dev Diner readers nominated their unsung heroes who they are incredibly grateful for — here are those heroes.

A selection of images from our inspirations below

A few of our VR/AR inspirations from 2016

VR and AR was our largest set of nominations (by a HUGE margin), so it’s a big list! We’ve got our main heroes who received the most nominations and then honourable mentions for those nominations who definitely still deserve recognition. The VR/AR community is a massive one, and I know of many people in the VR/AR community who didn’t get a nomination that really could have been in this list too — please know that your contributions are valuable and essential as well. Each and every person in the community can contribute in a big way right now. This list is just a small fraction of those who’ve been doing great things.

Let’s get to our top VR/AR heroes for 2016.

We have one top nominee for VR and one top nominee for AR:

Ram Dayal Vaishnav — our top VR hero for 2016!

Ram Dayal Vaishnav assisting a group of developers


Twitter: @ram_gurumukhi

Ram is our top Dev Diner Emerging Tech Inspiration for Virtual Reality in 2016. He got the most nominations of all our virtual reality heroes for 2016! Ram is an Open Source contributor and a Mozilla representative who founded India’s WebVR group. He has many people who are incredibly grateful this year for all that he has done!

As with a few other heroes nominated, Ram was nominated for various categories, including the IoT and augmented reality too. He is an overall emerging tech hero for sure! Here are some lovely anonymous comments received in his nominations:

“Ram has been doing lot of amazing community building work in India. Amazing developer and cool mentor, he is leading the community by example.”

“I met Ram in a Mozilla event where he introduced IoT to college students in a technical conference. Ram Dayal is a good speaker and gives good ideas. Then I attended his talks and sessions on VR as well. He mentored me and a lot of other Indian VR enthusiasts. […] His energy and ideas are awesome and he should be recognized for his efforts.”

“I love the way he explains WebVR to even a novice.”

Thank you Ram, for being our top VR hero for 2016.

Brennan Hatton — our top AR hero for 2016!

Brennan using Meta 1 AR glasses

Source: WIN News Illawarra’s Twitter feed

Twitter: @BrennanHatton

Brennan is our top Dev Diner Emerging Tech Inspiration for Augmented Reality in 2016. Brennan does work in both VR and AR, however he was resoundingly nominated in the AR category and thus is our top hero for AR this year.

Brennan currently works hard spreading his knowledge to school students through Devika Learning and I was really glad to see he was nominated! I’ve worked with him personally when he was at Meta (I was putting together my AR cat prototype!), he’s a really great guy. One nomination for Brennan said that Brennan’s work — “inspired me to jump ship from the finance industry to now become a part of the AR/VR movement”. Go Brennan!

He has a really neat demo he shows which works over a whole range of devices, as one nomination put it — “His presentation (I believe would be an Australian only) minimises the barrier of understanding what virtual and augmented reality is, and finishes by having the audience engaged playing an MMO game that involves the audience. His game allows people to participate with their mobile, or in virtual reality and in augmented reality.” I’ve seen it first hand and it is super cool!

My favourite anonymous nomination of his:

“I met Brennan when he was running a game dev workshop that I participated in with my son. I was impressed he had us both building a game in Unity inside a couple of hours. As is sometimes the case, I then started bumping into Brennan everywhere online, not least as he shared his own experiments and experiences in emerging tech through social media. I think what I admire most about this young man is that his passion for new tech is both balanced and complemented by his physical activity interests (at the more extreme end of climbing, hiking, skiing etc) and even more importantly his commitment to supporting local devs, the community, social issues like environmentalism and ethical behaviour. It gives me great hope that we have young men like Brennan leading the way in emerging tech.”

Thank you Brennan, for being our top AR hero for 2016 and for all you’ve done for the VR/AR community as a whole. You rock.

Onto our other main heroes who also received a large number of votes —


TheStoneFox's display picture on Twitter

Source: I quite like the TheStoneFox’s Twitter pic.

Twitter: @The_StoneFox

TheStoneFox built VRTK, a collection of useful scripts and prefabs for building VR titles in Unity 5. Many developers out there are very grateful for this developer’s contributions, one saying that TheStoneFox made “Unity VR game development accessible for everyone” and another said that VRTK was “an invaluable turning point in my game making endeavours”. That’s a huge contribution right there.

One anonymous nomination in particular stood out:

“TheStoneFox, creator of the VRTK, has succeeded in not only creating the best (and free!) tools for getting your VR project off the ground, but also a helpful and accepting community of game developers that are willing and capable of helping people with just about any situation regardless of whether or not it has to do specifically with the VRTK itself. When I first joined the VRTK Slack, I was unsure of whether or not I could even call myself a game developer. Now through the support of this great community, have enough knowhow and the confidence to at least believe ive earned myself the title of “”Game dev””. :)”

TheStoneFox, thank you, on behalf of all of the developers you helped in 2016.

Eva Hoerth

Various photos of Eva wearing headsets

Source: The many VR-enabled faces of Eva’s Twitter!

Twitter: @downtohoerth

Eva was another nominee who got a whole lot of nominations from the VR community! She is currently a VR Developer Evangelist at VREAL and organises a whole tonne of events that bring the VR community together, including the Seattle VR Meetup, the Seattle VR Hackathon and the VR/AR Collective. She has worked tirelessly to help VR events be as inclusive and diverse as possible, and she has been incredibly successful at it! I even interviewed her all about the Women in VR movement earlier in 2016 and it remains one of my favourite interviews from that year.

Her nominations came with some incredibly lovely anonymous praises, here are three of my favourites:

“Within and outside her day job as VR Developer Evangelist at VREAL, Eva is largely responsible for the fact the Seattle VR community is one of – if not the – largest, most vibrant, most welcoming and most thriving VR communities in the world. With her undying energy and perpetual kindness and encouragement of everyone she meets, Eva makes magic happen by bringing people and ideas together and always facilitating new connections and synergies were none were to be found. It’s easy to tell her work is her passion – she’s always on social (just posted something as I’m typing this), spreading the word and aiming the spotlight at a new tool or event or company doing amazing things. She is the glue that brings the community together, whose name everyone knows, whose face everyone recognizes.” 

“By its very nature, working in VR can be a solitary pursuit. It’s thanks to Eva and people like her that we – some of whom are more comfortable in VR than in real life – come out of our shells, meet other people who are passionate about the same things we are, and feel like we’re part of something greater than our own solitary efforts. “

“Eva Hoerth is easily the most inspiring person I can think of in the Seattle VR community.”

Thank you Eva. For the undeniably massive impact you’ve already had on the VR community, both in Seattle and beyond! As someone who knows how much you’ve been involved with, there’s so much that hasn’t even been listed above. That’s just the sort of person you are and it’s something the VR community needs right now. Thank you!

Scott O’Brien

Various shots of Scott O'Brien

Scott’s a happy guy!

Twitter: @scottobrien61

Scott recieved a whole bunch of nominations in both the VR and AR category! He’s the CEO of Humense, a company working on volumetric video and is also the organiser of the Sydney Augmented and Virtual Reality Meetup (in which you can often see Dev Diner hanging out with a Meta AR headset or a Vive demo!). As one nomination put it, “Scott has been able to work non-stop to put the Australian VR ecosystem on the map inspiring people to follow their dreams, be brave, do.” Inspiring people in the Aussie VR community is a great and honourable thing, Scott seems to be doing incredibly well at it.

“Scott has been an incredible leading voice for the ARVR movement in Australia. Without his passion and energy to move this space forward, we would be a lot further behind. I’m so excited to see Humense turn into something absolutely incredible. Thank you Scott for everything you’re doing.”

Thank you Scott, for all you’ve done for the Australian AR/VR community. We’ve got a few pillars who are organising events and connecting everyone here in Oz, and you are one of those key pillars!

Annie Harper

Annie Harper trying out the Hololens

Annie trying out the Hololens

Twitter: @anniecatdev

Annie is currently working with Brennan at Devika as their Creative Director! She also spends time helping teach kids to code, a very valuable pursuit! She got a few nominations from people who were particularly inspired by her VR projects, there was one mentioned twice:

“Annie is building an unconscious bias Virtual Reality application that is exploring how minorities feel in different scenarios and have you put in that situation. A very real and awesome app that is aimed at improving people self awareness, it is very impressive.”

Thank you Annie, for inspiring others with your work and for all the work you’ve done teaching and spreading the word of AR/VR!

Honourable nominations

The following developers received nominations and were also very worthy of a mention (in no particular order):

Kevin Ngo

Twitter: @andgokevin

Kevin is a developer on the Mozilla WebVR team and is a huge contributor to A-Frame and the WebVR community. Thank you Kevin for everything in 2016!

Esther Lekeu

Twitter: @Espectations01

Esther is definitely a worthy nominee for 2016! She works at Meta as an industrial designer and has done a lot to help those looking to get into AR. One particular quote from the nominations:

“Esther was one of the first inspiring women in emerging tech that I was able to see speak when she came to Sydney to talk about Meta glasses. She shows how chicks rock and can be anything they want to be!”

Thank you Esther for all those you inspired in 2016!

Timoni West

Twitter: @timoni

Timoni leads design on Unity’s Labs Team, focusing very much on virtual reality design. She was nominated in particular for her optimism for the future of VR — Timoni, thank you for your inspirational work in VR in 2016!

Tomáš Mariančík

Twitter: @Frooxius

Tomáš has built a bunch of pretty inspirational VR applications! I interviewed him for Dev Diner and am a pretty big fan of his Sightline VR experience. It looks like I’m not the only one:

“He created Sightline (The Chair) which is by far one of the most magical VR experiences I’ve ever experienced. When people experience his work they are shown the real power and magic of virtual reality, which can inspire them to jump in!”

Isaac “Cabbibo” Cohen

Twitter: @cabbibo

This nomination says it all. Thank you Issac for the inspiration you brought to VR in 2016:

“Since the very beginning, Cabbibo has been creating VR experiences unlike anything else I’ve seen. He’s pushing the limits of the medium as we know it and challenging a whole generation of creators and designers to push themselves too. If I ever need a little inspiration, I just take a look at some of the things he’s made and it helps me approach my VR work with an open mind & an open heart.”

Srushtika Neelakantam

Twitter: @Srushtika

Srushtika is a volunteer at Mozilla and was commended in a nomination for teaching developers how to start working with A-Frame. Thank you Srushtika for spreading the WebVR love in 2016!

Daniel Sim Lind

Twitter: @danielsimlind

Daniel teaches at Academy Xi, and as one nomination put it — “In the space of 10 weeks, he transformed a handful of green VR enthusiasts into people who actually understand the medium (and who of course realise that the medium will continue to change in ways we can’t yet imagine).” I’ve seen what Daniel can do, he’s a great teacher and has inspired many students at Academy Xi. Thank you Daniel for all you did in 2016!

Anna Sweet

Twitter: @giantsquidgirl

Anna is a developer at Oculus who inspired developers with her talks in 2016 at Oculus Launch Pad and Oculus Connect 3. In one nomination, they said that she “shared her history of difficulty getting into the game industry that captivated her as a child and now she works to help developers of all backgrounds bring their creative VR visions to fruition. She’s very responsive to questions and gives great, thoughtful advice, problem solving, moral and tech support. She’s an extraordinary person in tech!” That’s a whole lot of inspiration provided by one person. Anna, thank you for all you did for VR developers this year.

Mez Breeze

Twitter: @Mezbreezedesign

Mez has had VR experiences shown at a range of festivals and “has been interviewed about her work and AR’s implications on National Radio”. She has done a lot in 2016 and is very deserving of thanks for the inspiration she has spread like wildfire. Thank you Mez!

Simon Alexander Manning

Twitter: @si__m

Simon had a really lovely nomination which I wanted to share in full:

“His professional perspective and unbridled enthusiasm about VR and how it will benefit the design industry opened my eyes to the possibilities of the medium. Everywhere he goes, he seems to find a connection to the industry and is excited to share his knowledge with anyone. He started by convincing his firm to adopt VR across their offices across the US and then he freely spread those insights to local design firms and international architecture giants, all for the sake of moving the profession forward and calling attention to the power of VR in design. He is an active participant in the AR/VR community in Seattle and can usually be found there in a circle of people discussing how we can come together to improve the burgeoning immersive media industry.”

Thank you Simon, for inspiring others and moving VR forward in 2016!

Ryan Zehm

Ryan’s story alone is pretty inspiring, but in 2016 he was nominated for being willing to take the time to help out fellow developers:

“Unity produced some great VR scene assets for the GearVR. Unfortunately these scenes did not work with Google Cardboard which is a way more accessible platform than the GearVR.
Ryan helped port all the Unity scenes to Google Cardboard and also made YouTube tutorials for the community to learn how to do the same. I cannot thank Ryan enough for this.”

Thank you Ryan!

Roger Lawrence

Twitter: @rog42

Roger is a huge enthusiast in the emerging tech space, especially in VR and AR. He has spoken at numerous events, even MCed at a few great ones like Convergence in Sydney. He was nominated as “one of Australia’s leaders in all things emerging tech” whose “breadth of knowledge and immense support for a broad range of industries is outstanding” and who “deserves recognition for his hard work in promoting and furthering technology in Australia”. I’d agree with that. Thank you Roger. Your contributions have not gone unnoticed in 2016.

Shaun Dunn

Twitter: @shaundunne

Shaun inspired the community with a great VR talk at Reactivate London in 2016 — thank you for getting up there and spreading word about VR in 2016!

Arturo Paracuellos

Twitter: @arturitu

Arturo was nominated in 2016 for his “interesting blog posts” and “incredible WebVR apps”. Nice work in 2016 Arturo! Thank you for all you’ve shared with the VR community.

Despina Tracey

Twitter: @despinatracey

Despina was nominated for “using virtual reality to innovate sales in the medical device industry. She’s a pioneer!” Nice work Despina!

Linda McKittrick Gedemer

Twitter: @linda_gedemer

Linda is co-chair of the Audio Engineering Society’s Conference on Audio for Virtual and Augmented Reality and inspired a nomination due to “her deep knowledge of the field, her deep commitment to running the event (and hopefully enabling it to continue to run), and of course her openness as a person during the event” — all while finishing a PhD! Thank you Linda for all you did in 2016!

Livi Ericsson

Twitter: @misslivirose

Livi is teaching students about AR and VR in the new AR/VR Academy. She was nominated by one of her students in particular:

“I was lucky enough to be one of Livi’s students this year in the newly created AR/VR Academy, a non-profit with the goal in broadening the representation of women & other minorities in the field. Livi goes above and beyond in not only creating AR and VR applications, but in disseminating her knowledge and helping mold a diverse community of VR creators in the Bay Area. Thanks for all your work, Livi!”

Thank you Livi, for spreading AR and VR knowledge in such a great way!

Lawrence Crumpton

Lawrence is a Developer Platform Evangelist at Microsoft who was nominated for working “extremely hard at Microsoft on their Imagine Cup, taking Australian university students to win the world cup three years in a row!” Now that is a fantastic achievement for 2016! I know that Lawrence has also been doing fantastic work showcasing the potential of augmented reality with the Hololens at plenty of events. Thank you Lawrence for bringing emerging tech enthusiasm to students and others all around the world with what you do.

Md Shahbaz Alam

Twitter: @mdsbzalam

He was nominated as a core member of webvr-india group and for his various WebVR talks. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm in 2016!

Riley Gasiorowski

Twitter: @VRGatsby

Riley was nominated for his work developing DatavizVR “almost single handedly”. His nomination said that he “deserves much recognition for his relentlessness and perseverance to continue to improve the quality of the VR content marketplace” and that he is “a gift to those around him and makes tech easily digestible and understandable for everyone”.

Mark Pesce

Twitter: @mpesce

Mark definitely has inspired many in the VR industry, but one nomination in particular was worth ending on:

“Mark is an ongoing source of inspiration in the field of tech, but this particular nomination is from watching him at Sydney Web VR explain A-Frame in very simple terms (I know full well that he could have gone crazily complex if he wanted to) to a room full of developers and designers who walked away saying ‘Huh. I reckon I could do that!'”

That’s just what we need in VR right now. Spreading VR enthusiasm in a way which shows so many that they too can get involved. Mark, I know you’ve done a whole lot this year in spreading the word about VR, thank you for all of it in 2016.

Thank you VR and AR heroes of 2016!

Let’s have another year where we push the boundaries of what’s possible and become an ever more inclusive community of a whole diverse range of people, opinions and perspectives. The number of nominations I received for VR/AR alone shows that it’s a community that is going strong. That’s something to be proud of. Thank you to everyone who took time to anonymously nominate someone, there is so much that often goes unspoken. Let’s keep thanking those who’ve done great stuff in the field.

Do you have great stories about any of our heroes above? Or do you have others who you’d like to shout out and thank for their work too? Feel free to do so in the comments.

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