Researchers and academics will explore uses for social interactive technologies at a new $8 million research centre launched today at the University of Melbourne.
The university has partnered with Microsoft and the Victorian government to create the world-first Microsoft Centre for Social Natural User Interface Research.
The centre joins other Microsoft-funded research facilities at the software giant’s headquarters in Redmond in the US; Cambridge in the UK; Bangalore, India; and Beijing, China.
Aspects of national user interface (NUI) technologies that combine voice, gesture recognition, eye gaze, body movements, and touch, are found in smartphone, tablets and devices like Xbox Kinect.
Speaking CIO Australia, Dr Frank Vetere, research centre director at Melbourne University, said although NUI technology currently exists in smartphones and other devices, it is not used to mediate social relationships and strengthen social bonds.
“What Facebook did to GUIs (graphical user interfaces), we are doing to NUIs,” Vetere said.
Dr Vetere and Tony Hey, VP of Microsoft Research Connections, are particularly enthused about NUI capabilities in Xbox Kinect. New sensors in this product have biometric sensors that can identify faces and voices of up to six people, mood and gestural expressions; and can discriminate between individual fingers, and the twists and turns of a person’s arms and legs.
The research centre will initially look at the potential of social interactive technologies in four areas: homes, schools, the health sector, and public spaces.
“We are looking at the way social dynamics are mediated in the home, how gesture and voice can augment social dynamics,” said Dr Vetere. “The way people might play games or through discussions or any kind of activity in the home where natural interaction can play a role.”
Microsoft’s Hey said he was confident that the centre would open the flood gates to innovative social uses of NUI.
“The potential for social NUI will only be limited by our imagination,” he said.
Around 28 researchers and academics will work at the centre over the next three years.