The University of Canterbury has unveiled a virtual reality research and development lab that aims to develop new user interfaces to make computers more natural, inituitive and easy to ease.
Canterbury’s Human Interface Technology Laboratory, or HIT Lab NZ, will act as an annexe to the HIT Lab in Seattle. The US lab has over the past 12 years grown from two staff to 120 and claims to have led to the spin off of 21 companies creating more than 500 new jobs.
HIT Lab NZ will also be part of the Virtual Worlds Consortium, a group of 48 multinational businesses, giving New Zealand firms access to US business and academic networks.
The centre, currently employing two staff, will be run by ex-pat New Zealander Dr Mark Billinghurst, who is due to move from Seattle by July 1. It is expected to employ up to 20 staff by the year’s end.
The interfaces developed in the lab will be used in education, medicine and entertainment. The technologies include 3D panoramic displays, virtual and augment reality, voice and behaviour recognition and intuitive and aural feedback systems.
HIT Lab marketing manager Miranda Hogan says immediate projects include a 3D animated book called The Magic Book, on which Billinghurst has worked, that “allows anatomy students to fly around the heart”. Other projects include using 3D technology for “virtual touching” and avoiding traditional mice and keyboards.
Hit Lab NZ was developed in Canterbury because Christchurch is a sister city of Washington. It represents a public-private partnership between the universities of Canterbury and Washington and the Canterbury Development Corporation.
CDC science and technology adviser Larry Podmore believes HIT Lab NZ will be a powerful economic driver for Canterbury and New Zealand, developing bridges between academic research and industry and between New Zealand and international companies. Its launch was boosted by a $333,000 government grant.