Home Industry Development Microsoft, Melbourne University and Victoria in 'flagship' NUI partnership

Microsoft, Melbourne University and Victoria in 'flagship' NUI partnership

The University of Melbourne is home to a new research centre for social natural user interfaces.

The University of Melbourne, Microsoft and the Victorian Government have together tipped in $8 million to establish the Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces.

Natural user interfaces draw in existing human capacities in the natural world, such as voice, gesture, gaze, body movements and touch, explained Microsoft Research vice president Tony Hey (pictured).

The Xbox Kinect provides an example of the way they can be applied to controlling software, but the centre will investigate the application of this technology in social situations.

Dr Hey said the interdisciplinary centre will focus on NUIs in four main contexts:

• private spaces (eg, homes and offices),
• public spaces (eg, parks and squares),
• educational spaces (both formal and informal), and
• healthcare and wellbeing.

"The social aspects of NUIs are not obvious to us now," said centre director Frank Vetere.

"I believe the centre is here to stimulate our imaginations," he added.

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Dr Hey predicted that the centre will serve as a testbed for new technologies as well as developing new intellectual property, publishing research papers, and providing for an exchange of people between the university and Microsoft.

"This centre is well positioned to make some real breakthroughs," he said.

The centre will have 28 dedicated positions, and will also accommodate guest researchers from the Asia Pacific region and elsewhere in the world.

Dr Hey said his company had a history of successful collaboration with The University of Melbourne since 2005, and "we understand the strength of the university."

He added that there are already well-established connections between Microsoft and the university in this area of research.

Victorian Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Technology Gordon Rich-Phillips said this is "an incredibly important area of research".

Information and communications technology "is a very substantial part of the Victorian economy" in its own right, but it is also an enabler of productivity growth in the wider economy.

Mr Rich-Phillips pointed to the consistency of government policy in this area over the last two decades regardless of which party was in power.

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In the last 15 years, $1.8 billion has been invested in research infrastructure, notably in the Parkville precinct around The University of Melbourne and the Clayton precinct around Monash University.

This has been "a driver of ICT investment in the state," he said, establishing Melbourne as a leading centre for R&D and attracting private sector investment.

The $8 million funding is for a three year period.

While a Microsoft spokesperson declined to provide a breakdown of the funding, the name of the centre suggests the company is putting up the lion's share.

Deputy vice chancellor research Jim McClusky said he was "thrilled" to be launching the centre.

He said the centre will provide "superb opportunities" for doctoral, masters and honours students to conduct research that will have an impact.

"It's going to be a flagship partnership," Prof McClusky said.

Photo: The University of Melbourne

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.