19 December 2018

SensiLab 2018

SensiLab Director Jon McCormack has reflected on the highlights of 2018

As we approach the end of the year, it’s good to look back on our achievements in 2018 and our plans for 2019. Over the last 12 months, members of the SensiLab team have been all over the world. From Moscow to Montreal, Linz to London, Adelaide to Ballarat, Phnom Penh to Rhode Island, Dublin to Copenhagen — we are certainly getting our research and ideas out into the world.

This marks the first year in our new, custom designed space, part of the ‘SensiLab magic’ that seeks to redefine what a trans-disciplinary, inclusive research space can be. Our tours always leave guests brimming with enthusiasm and wonder. Many of our visiting alumni — invited back to Monash to see how it has changed — were often heard to proclaim, “if only SensiLab was available when I was a student here!”.

We have benefited enormously from our commercial partnerships and sponsors this year. Our imaging studios are equipped with the latest Cinema and digital video tools from Blackmagic Design. Our continuing relationship with NVIDIA means we are always working with state-of-the-art deep learning and high-end graphics hardware. We’re also incredibly fortunate to be supported by the Roland Corporation of Japan, who are assisting us with our creative AI work in music and percussion.

Support from Black Magic Design helps us investigate the untapped potential of technology and rapidly prototype innovative applications
The NVIDIA systems contributed will be used as part of SensiLab's research efforts in Creative AI and visualisation

Our practice-based PhD program continues to grow, with several new students beginning their research journey with us this year in areas as diverse as affective AI and virtual heritage. We will be welcoming even more students next year. Our research environment embeds students in an exciting and supportive research culture, and gives them access to world-class facilities for design and making — perfect for undertaking research by practice.

We also celebrated a number of significant research highlights this year. Our flagship virtual heritage project Visualising Angkor continues to grow under the direction of Tom Chandler. The project won the American Historical Association’s 2018 Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History, a prestigious award in recognition of the project’s innovative use of digital technology to reconstruct the world heritage Cambodian site. The latest incarnation of the project aims to massively expand the area of land simulated using techniques only possible through recent advances in technology.

Software we developed for our augmented reality sandbox won the best demo paper award at IEEE ICME 2018 Conference in San Diego. This software is now in heavy use by the department of Earth Sciences at Monash, who use it as part of their undergraduate curriculum. Several other organisations have expressed interest in using it and plans are underway to commercialise the project.

In our Programmable Matter research stream, we are grateful to the Australian Network for Art and Technology who awarded PhD student Natalie Alima a Synapse residency in 2018. Natalie has been working with me on developing new systems of architectural and physical design that combine biological, human and artificial intelligences. We hope that this research will lead to new ways of how we think about designing with living materials and digital fabrication technologies.

SensiLab’s Visualising Angkor project creates a highly detailed virtual reconstruction of Angkor in Cambodia
Natalie Alima is collaborating with Jon McCormack to explore ways to control and orchestrate biological growth

We also welcomed leading researcher Professor Simon Colton to SensiLab this year. Simon is well known for his ground breaking work in computational creativity and he shares his appointment at SensiLab with another at Queen Mary, University of London. Simon has initiated a number of new research projects as part of our Creative AI research stream, which looks at how AI can be used to support and develop human creativity. Look out for more details in 2019!

Members of our Creative AI team have just returned from NeurIPS conference in Montreal, where they presented our latest research in deep learning for music percussion and visual similarity search. You can keep track of our developments in Creative AI on our newly launched

We continued to grow our extensive engagement and outreach program in 2018, participating in events such as White Night, Melbourne Knowledge Week, Melbourne Design Week, Famelab and the Ars Electronica festival. Our Virtual Reality listening project, Big Earth Listening allows you to float under the ground of Melbourne’s MPavilion and experience the natural and human-made sounds of the environment directly below the site. If you haven’t already tuned in, please do.

Our accessibility researchers developed a special exhibition for Melbourne Science Gallery’s PERFECTION exhibition. “Disability or Diffability?” is a virtual reality game based on cooperation. The work exquisitely highlights trade-offs between visual abilities and “seeing” with sound, asking participants to consider how vision impairment might allow new ways to experience the world through other senses with “superpowers”.

Visuals from the audio installation at the 2018 MPavilion
The virtual environment from 'Diffability or Disability?'

Our SensiLab forum gives leading speakers from academia, industry and the creative arts a platform for discussion and dissemination of research. This year welcomed an outstanding array of speakers, including Ana Tiquia, Jacina Leong, Sarah Pink, Alisa Andrasek, James Boyce and Betty Sargeant — to name but a few! All talks are live streamed and you can watch at any time from our website. We already have a great bunch of speakers lined up for next year, so please come along when the series starts again in 2019!

In this brief summary I have only given a taste of all the activities, projects and contributions that SensiLab has been part of in 2018. Please explore our website for more information.

Next year is shaping up to be even more exciting so look out for announcements from us in 2019.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all our staff, students, visitors, partners and supporters for their amazing contributions this year and for making SensiLab such an interesting and exciting place.

I wish everyone the best for the holiday season and a fruitful and prosperous 2019!

Jon McCormack, SensiLab Director.