Saving the planet and unlocking lost worlds

Visiting Professor Austen Atkinson

Published on 08 January 2020

Today Austen Atkinson’s career takes a new turn as he becomes a Visiting Professor of Immersive Technologies at the University of Sunderland.  He is the University’s first Visiting Professor to work cross-faculty, becoming a bridge between creative arts and technology, working with students from the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries and the Faculty of Technology.

The 50-year-old has worked on life-changing projects where artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) are used across sectors, from media to protecting the environment to space exploration to improving healthcare. Over the last five years he has worked as a project lead with Google, and in the space sector.

Currently Austen is running Durham-based Lexicon to explore VR, AI and emerging technologies. In 2019, he was project lead on building an artificial intelligence system for an intelligence agency and lead on creating the Smart City Strategy for Kent.

Austen has employed story telling across print, radio, TV, digital and VR, knowing there is always real value in stories. Admired and relied upon to engage and influence global audiences, he has produced high-profile projects and programmes for the BBC, Sky, Channel 4, Channel 5, History Channel, The Sunday Times, Virgin, Google and many others.

Austen has also been lead on an innovation project in SFX driven animation, used in programmes - including Doctor Who.

But despite his busy schedule he is passing on his years of experience and cutting-edge skills to the younger generation.

Speaking about his appointment as Visiting Professor with the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries, Austen said: “I hope to show the students that they can make a difference, to find their inner chutzpah.

“The North East is full of incredible people who have a lot to contribute. My hope is that I can transfer my practical knowledge to the students so they can unlock their own potential.”

Austen led Lost Worlds, a space-based research project which worked with NASA astronomer Ron Blom using data and satellite based sensors to unlock secrets about 11 sites around the planet which were ancient settlements, such as Angkor Wat and Ubar.

The research led to the hugely successful Channel 4 / Discovery Channel series Lost Worlds and the international bestselling book Lost Civilisations.

Playing his part in protecting the world in which we live is always at the top of Austen’s agenda.

He said: “We live in a time of science and technology where we can do things no human has ever been able to do before. Yet, we are so troubled and we are doing terrible things to our own planet.

“To play a part in changing that is something we can all get involved in.”

Austen added: “The actor Jon Pertwee, who was a wonderful man, and was known for playing Doctor Who and Worzel Gummidge, once told me that whatever you choose to do in life you should do it with love and passion.  I think that is an incredibly powerful message.”