The HIT Lab NZ offers postgraduate degrees (called “graduate degrees” in the US) at the Masters and PhD level.
The keys to our courses and projects are a multidisciplinary focus, collaboration with external companies and teamwork. You may have a Bachelor’s degree in design or psychology and want to expand your expertise into the prototyping domain or vise versa. We encourage students from diverse backgrounds to join the laboratory. Students with expertise in philosophy, economics or sociology are as welcome as students with an engineering degree. It is the mix of backgrounds that makes our educational programs so special.
The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Human Interface Technology is a multidisciplinary degree that is designed to allow students from a variety of backgrounds to undertake research in Human Interface Technology. The research generally focuses on technology falling somewhere along the Reality-Virtuality Continuum, including Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Applied Gaming, and Human-Robot Interaction. The PhD typically takes three years to complete, and you will be able to completely focus on your research during that time.
The Master of Human Interface Technology (MHIT) degree is a one-year program that takes students through the theory, process, and techniques for producing creative technical solutions.
Thesis work typically involves new emerging technologies such as Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Applied Gaming and Human-Robot Interaction, all tied together through creative Interaction Design. Most of the Thesis work completed for the MHIT is done in collaboration with an external partner, and many are funded.
The HIT Lab NZ also welcomes interns to spend three to six months working on directed projects across the research spectrum of the Lab. Specific topics cold come from the applicant, or be given to the applicant by a staff member.
Research staff member profile: Adrian Clark
Staff member Adrian Clark has been with the HIT Lab NZ for almost thirteen years. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.
The first time Adrian visited the HIT Lab NZ, he saw a version of the classic “Worms” game in augmented reality (AR). “I was blown away by the potential of removing the ‘computer’ from computer games,” he says. “It was something I’d never seen before, where the digital content of a game was brought into the real world.”
In 2005 he started his PhD in Computer Science, and after earning his degree in 2009, he took a succession of positions, from research assistant, to post-doctoral researcher and finally, lecturer.
For his PhD, Adrian developed a tracking technology that is still used in projects at the HIT Lab NZ. He now works in the field of computer vision, which is a critical component of any AR technology.
After completing his PhD, Adrian started applying the tools he developed to other applications.
One of his first projects was to prove that it was possible to use a magic-mirror system to make people feel as if they were interacting with spiders. The virtual spiders help people overcome their phobias with controlled exposure. The HIT Lab NZ still uses this project at schools and universities to demonstrate the purpose and importance of AR. “The demo is basic, but it’s engaging, and people can look it at and immediately understand the point of some of the stuff we do [at the HIT Lab NZ],” says Adrian.
Another project in particular become its own start-up company, Quiver. Originally called colAR (a portmanteau of “colour” and “AR”), the app animates characters on printable colouring book pages. Even with no marketing, the app has just reached 3 million downloads on the App Store.
“If you have a great idea and you can package it nicely, people will find it and download it. They don’t mind trying something free or low-cost,” says Adrian. He finds that teachers in particular share the app among themselves when looking for ways to use technology in the classroom. “As AR apps like Snapchat and Pokemon Go become more and more popular, people are starting to look for the technology elsewhere,” he says.
For Adrian, the Quiver app represents a shift in AR research, both for the HIT Lab NZ and for the broader field. When he first started working in AR, mobile devices were not powerful enough to run AR applications. In general, the biggest limitation for AR researchers was the hardware. In the past five to ten years, however, the rapid uptake of smartphones such as iPhone and Android has changed the field. Now, with the hardware in the hands of billions of people, AR apps are widely accessible. “Having this larger audience makes it exciting to be in the field of AR,” says Adrian.
For AR researchers today, the primary challenge is to find and develop the best ideas. “At the HIT Lab NZ, we moved from solving technical problems to solving human problems,” he says. “We look at a given problem and ask, ‘Can this be solved by technology? How?’” Ultimately, Adrian and his colleagues want to make useful technology to solve everyday problems.
Adrian believes that the field of AR is currently in a bubble. Right now, he says, it is “sexy and exciting” to use AR and related technologies to try to solve every problem. Adrian predicts, however, that within five years the novelty of AR will have worn off for the average consumer. “People will be bored with the Snapchat face filters. The question I ask myself is, ‘What can we make that people will keep using, day after day?’”
Based on his experience as both a student and lecturer, Adrian advises prospective students of Human Interface Technology to identify their specific interests and make a plan for their thesis before they start the program. “If you start with a solid idea, you can hit the ground running. You can say, ‘This is what I want to do, and this is how I’m going to get there’.”
When considering a topic for a project, Adrian advises students to identify a “pain point” in their own lives. “You should find something that annoys you or frustrates you on a daily basis, and focus on fixing that problem,” he says. “It’s not enough to make something cool. You have to make something that improves people’s lives.”