Creating space for change

Image of sensiLab team
Professor Jon McCormack (front) with members of the sensiLab team (left to right): PhD student Yalong Yang, research fellow Sarah Goodwin, Dr Maxime Cordeil (wearing headset), and Professor Kim Marriot.

Report Neha Kale
Photography Mark Chew

A group of researchers cluster around a humanoid robot with the mannerisms of a child. Nearby, a scientist swaps Melbourne for medieval Angkor by donning a headset while a designer pours over a ring equipped to simulate sight.

If you wander into sensiLab, an interdisciplinary facility that launched in May 2015 at Monash University’s Caulfield campus, you would be forgiven for thinking that your favourite science fiction novel had come to life.

But for sensiLab director Professor Jon McCormack, the trailblazing space is less focused in fantasy than it is in tackling challenges we face in the real world.

“We wanted to address the changes that were happening around us and the fact that innovation was coming from non-traditional areas by bringing together people from different disciplines,” explains Professor McCormack, adding that the lab hosts over 50 researchers across fields like IT, engineering, medicine, art and design.

“sensiLab is oriented around visualisation, interaction design and digital fabrication.”

sensiLab, modelled on hackerspaces and innovation hubs such as the MIT media lab, is interested in how technological acceleration has created low barriers to entry into the marketplace and what this means for problemsolving on a global scale.

Professor McCormack says that working with low-cost equipment such as the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that enables wearers
to simultaneously enter immersive virtual spaces, has sparked new possibilities for collaboration and learning.

“Virtual reality technology used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars but now headsets cost around $350 so the question is no longer about affordability but about what happens when we connect them together.