University of Melbourne
Microsoft, the University of Melbourne and the Victorian government have joined forces to open an $8 million research centre for social new interactive technologies that use voice, touch, gesture, gaze and physical movement. The Microsoft Centre for Social Natural User Interface (NUI) Research will have funded positions for researchers exploring the social uses of technology that enables digital products to use physical human engagement more intuitively and naturally. NUIs, such as Wii game consoles and Xbox Kinect, moved away from the desktop and mouse to use direct physical engagement such as capturing voice, gesture, touch and even brain recognition with sensors that interact with technologies. Centre director Professor Frank Vetere, who also heads up the Interaction Design Lab at Melbourne University, told StartupSmart the centre would push the emerging field of NUI design towards reaching its social potential. “The recent explosion of social media shows the extraordinary human desire to use technology for our own personal needs and interaction, so there is definitely a growing role for social NUIs,” Vetere says. “The centre is not just about the fun stuff like Facebook. It’s also the way we’re social in the workplace, in schools, in hospitals, and how we relate in public spaces.” This is Microsoft’s first NUI centre focused on the social uses of the emerging technology. Vetere says there is ample opportunity for Australia to become a leader in this emerging tech industry. “Clearly this is an opportunity to extend the thinking and knowledge happening elsewhere. We’ve got enormous strong support with Microsoft, so we can clearly leverage and contribute to their wider NUI work,” Vetere says. The research centre is intended to explore the emerging field of how technology can encourage positive social and collaborative behaviours. Resources have been allocated for three years. In a statement, Microsoft Research vice president Tony Hey said the three-way partnership was great news for achieving their goals. “This is a world class research centre, located at a world class university in a forward thinking state,” Hey said. “I am confident the centre will open the floodgates to innovative social uses of NUI. The potential for social NUI will only be limited by our imagination.” The 28 supported academics and PhD students will have the opportunity to spend time at other Microsoft research centres such as Cambridge, Beijing, and Redmond in the US.
Business Name: 2Mar Robotics Age: 24 State: Victoria Marita Cheng has been passionate about robotics for a long time. Even as a child, the founder and chief executive of 2Mar Robotics would think about how cool it would be if she had a robot to help her with chores around the house. Now Cheng, last year’s Young Australian of the Year for her work establishing Robogals Global and encouraging girls to study engineering, is rapidly making her childhood dream a reality. 2Mar Robotics is building a voice-controlled robotic arm to help quadriplegics with tasks such as picking up a drink or pressing a pedestrian crossing button to cross the street. So far they’ve secured $100,000 worth of orders and plan to ship next year. “Eventually I want to make robots that are accessible to consumers, that are useable for consumers in their everyday lives,” she says. Cheng, who’s studying a double degree in mechatronics and computer science at the University of Melbourne, says she was inspired to create a robotics company after seeing others being formed in garages by people who’d dropped out of university. “I thought if they can, I can too,” she says. 2Mar Robotics is part of the Melbourne Accelerator Program through Melbourne University. Cheng says the advice she has for other young entrepreneurs is to believe in themselves. “Even if other people don’t believe in you, it doesn’t matter as long as you believe in yourself.” Related articles about Marita Robotic arms and cleaners take out top honours at Tech23 Finalists announced for pitching conference at leading technology conference Tech23 Australia’s top 10 female start-up entrepreneurs
A robotic arm maker, colour-matching database and a neurological medical devise start-up are among six start-ups to join the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP), hosted by the University of Melbourne’s School of Engineering and the Faculty of Business and Economics. Rohan Workman, manager of MAP, told StartupSmart they had a tough job picking only six companies from 53 applications. “The reason we chose these teams were these people had the best chance of making their ideas work. The fact these guys were already out there and taking strides forward with their business and getting a bit of traction really worked in their favour,” he says. These are the companies chosen for the accelerator: The Price Geek, a bargain-seeking search engine; Ebla, an online publishing platform for legal professionals; Client Catalyst, a mobile marketing and inbound client call service; SwatchMate, a colour-matching database service; 2Mar Robotics, a maker of robotic arms for people with quadriplegia; and Cortera Neurotechnologies, an implantable medical device for diagnosing incurable neurological conditions company. At least one member of the team needs to be studying at the University of Melbourne, recent alumni or staff from the engineering and IT, and business schools to be eligible for the program. The entrepreneurial fellowships provide office space, funding and mentoring for the start-ups. Workman says universities are perfectly placed to do more to boost the entrepreneurial ecosystem. He says he expects to see them doing more with their resources. “We’re only now starting to see how universities can help start-ups, but universities can and will do more and more. It’s not a zero sum game, we’re keen to see more universities running similar programs,” he says. “We (universities) have a unique set of assets including an alumni network, connections to industry and government, expertise across the campus and a brand. All of this is really helpful for a start-up.” Workman says the buzz around entrepreneurial activity at Melbourne University is really rewarding. “Guys who were thinking about entrepreneurship as a career path are now seriously considering it, it’s no longer a pipe dream,” he says, adding Australia still has some cultural challenges to tackle. “Lots of people are quite risk averse. A lot of people are afraid of the stigma of failure, and that’s Australia wide. “We need to change that around and turn it around. Everyone who has started a business will know you fail a thousand times before you get it right. This program is about giving these guys the network to learn and accept that.”
University of Melbourne graduate Zezan Tam will join 79 entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley next month for a 10-week program at Singularity University, after winning a $30,000 scholarship for his carpooling concept. Tam is the creator of cloud-based app Carpooler, designed to make carpooling easy by saving drivers time and money, while helping to reduce congestion and transport-related pollution. Tam is the winner of Singularity University’s Global Impact Competition, which launched in Australia in February. The aim of the competition was to come up with an idea that could positively impact more than one million Australians. As the winner of the competition, Tam will travel to Silicon Valley with a $30,000 scholarship, which will see him attend the 10-week Graduate Studies Program at Singularity University. This university, located in the NASA Ames Research Centre, was founded by a number of well-known personalities including Google co-founder Larry Page, space entrepreneur Robert D. Richards, physician and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, and inventor Ray Kurzweil. The Graduate Studies Program is designed to inspire and equip leaders who want to build innovative solutions to address global challenges. Tam will be joined by 79 other participants from the around the world. In addition to the program itself, he will be exposed to investors, funding bodies and mentors. He will also receive a scholarship from Singularity University partner Creative Universe, which offers leadership and innovation programs to enhance leadership performance and productivity. Creative Universe will support Tam’s attendance at the Creative Innovation Global conference in November, which gives participants an opportunity to present their vision for the future. Tam told StartupSmart cars are often heavily underutilised, so his plan is to change that. “Cars are wasteful in two ways. You use them for two out of 24 hours a day and you use one out of five seats,” he says. “You think of all the resources that go into building this wonderful piece of engineering, and then it barely gets used to its full potential. “A lot of value can be related to carpooling. The only reason people don’t do it now is because of a lack of coordination.” Tam, who is yet to build the Carpooler technology, has high hopes for the Graduate Studies Program. “Number one is to get my mind blown apart from all this cool stuff out there,” he says. “[I’m also hoping to] use the time out there to get the concept developed and get it funded so I could hire some full-time staff to get it built, then return to Melbourne and keep working on it. “Melbourne is one of the perfect cities because of the urban sprawl here. I would prove the concept here in Melbourne, which would essentially allow me to expand to Sydney and some more American cities.” Tam wasn’t the only entrepreneur recognised by the judges in the Global Impact Competition. Queenslander Mark McConville won second prize with a unique comedy-based entertainment and educational program. He will receive mentorship and support services from the Australian Institute for Commercialisation and the Gold Coast Innovation Centre, worth more than $16,000.
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