Last Thursday night, I had a visit to SensiLab. Opened in May 2015, SensiLab is a research hub that enables researchers and industry to collaborate on new technologies that have business applications. The idea of SensiLab was to bring together ‘anti-disciplinary’ teams to perform research that cannot be performed by a single discipline alone. For example, many of the products we saw all had applications across multi industries such as Art and Design, Architecture, Engineering and of course, IT.
— Helen Blunden (@ActivateLearn) April 28, 2016
What I loved was that the ideas generated in this hub that consisted of Ph.D. scholars were that they were applying these ideas to everyone. Although many of what we saw were commercial-in-confidence, unfortunately, I couldn’t take photos or videos. However I have shared some tweets by SensiLab so that you can see some of their projects.
SensiLab is located at the Caulfield campus of Monash University and close to home. As a Monash graduate (of the Clayton campus), it was the first time in over 24 years that I had stepped back into a campus. I deliberately went early to wander around the grounds and in and out of buildings. I watched students walking to lectures, sitting on the lawns alone or in groups studying. I took elevators to various floors in buildings and saw students sitting on the carpet, waiting for a lecture to finish before they could go into the room.
Haven’t been here in years…of course, my campus was the one in Clayton. Ah, memories… pic.twitter.com/sqW7YKFpmx
— Helen Blunden (@ActivateLearn) April 28, 2016
What surprised me was that everywhere I turned, students had headphones on, were looking at their smart devices or tapping away at their laptops. Not many were carrying around heavy textbooks – in fact, the only textbooks I saw were sitting on the work table at SensiLab or displayed on a solitary bookshelf on one of the walls.
Instead, everyone seemed connected to some device.
Such a different picture to my university days in the late 80s…
When we all arrived at the labs, we were welcomed with drinks and nibbles and had an opportunity to meet others who were there on the tour. Lynne Payne who is the Industry Portfolio Manager ( liasion between industry and the researchers) gave us a short presentation on what to expect on the tour. Many of the people came from different parts of the university or were academics and researchers themselves in their own fields. We were guided to SensiLab and met by its director, Professor Jon McCormack who also conducted the tour and introduced us to his research team.
As you enter the lab, you see a variety of products on pedestals that are illuminated – much like what you see at a museum or art gallery. On the pedestals, I noticed that they had Google Glasses on one, a drone on another and a Narrative Clip. I would have liked to have picked these up and played with them but there was limited time. Besides the cynic in me thought that displays like this have limited ‘shelf lives’ (pardon the pun’). With the rapid rate of change in technology, how long before the Narrative Clip is surpassed by something else?
As we wandered the corridors of SensiLab, my thoughts turned to how frustrating it might be to be a museum curator nowadays constantly changing superseded technology. Amusingly, I then thought about the popularity of trash and treasure (second hand) Sunday markets. Really, if you think about it, all technology pretty much ends up here.
But I digress.
One of the most amazing displays of Virtual Reality was the Visualising Angkor project where they recreated medieval Cambodia (12th century) of Angkor. Projected onto a long wall, at one stage, I felt the ground moving underneath me as it felt that we were immersed in the scene. You can see this fascinating project on Google Cultural Institute. We watched people go about their daily lives around the temple and it gave us an idea of what life would have been like back then.
— Monash sensiLab (@sensilab_monash) December 9, 2015
Another example of immersive analytics was the contextual wall consisting of various screens that showed data in a visual format and allowed people in dispersed teams around the world to collaborate.
Data in-the-round – exploring election data on a 100Mpix wall at SensiLab pic.twitter.com/zAfrFGRkFK
— Monash sensiLab (@sensilab_monash) April 15, 2016
I got to try out the Oculus Rift again (although it wasn’t as good as the Samsung VR game that I played at the Connect Expo one week earlier), however, I’m not one to say no to trying out new things.
Overall, I found the tour of SensiLab not only informative but educational. In particularly, I was impressed that these projects had some business or commercial application. It looked like a lot of fun to also be given free reign to design, build, create, experiment with different technologies.
As they explained the various projects they were working on, I was thinking of my own field of corporate Learning and Development and how at times, I felt that we were actually ‘behind the 8-ball’. We were shown an example of a product that currently in many organisations is delivered in a boring static manner but SensiLab had taken it to a completely new level delivered through an app on an iPad and that it is accessible to visually impaired people.
When you see things like this, you start to question the offering that you’re providing to your employees who have disabilities currently and how woeful it is in comparison. We’re just not doing enough to explore all possibilities and ideas like these researchers are with their business partners. They work together, they collaborate, they build, they test, they fail, they try again, they succeed, they learn, they share – Learning and Development doesn’t seem to work this way with their own internal business clients unfortunately.
So if you’re an industry or community organisation who has a ‘blue sky’ idea but doesn’t have the resources to investigate or if you don’t have the budget to engage a technical resource, then you should consider contacting SensiLab. They have a variety of different working arrangements and agreements that address IP, commercialisation and confidentiality.
Alternatively, I encourage you to do one of their public tours that occur every month. Their website has more details.