The HIT Lab NZ at the University of Canterbury offers a doctorate in Human Interface Technology. This is a multidisciplinary degree that is designed to allow students from a variety of backgrounds to undertake research in this field.
Research topics typically involve technology within human-robot interaction, virtual reality, augmented virtuality and augmented reality. Other topics may be considered.
Unlike most US doctoral programs, PhD degrees in New Zealand are typically completed within three years, and do not involve coursework. Students begin conducting research from the moment they start the programme.
Check out the application process for the PhD in Human Interface Technology.
Scholarships are available both from the University of Canterbury and from the HIT Lab. A scholarship from the university will allow you more freedom to determine your research focus, while scholarships from the lab will require you to work within one of our funded projects.
Please contact individual staff members about possible scholarships. We currently have a number of College of Engineering Fees Scholarships available covering the university fees of the PhD course.
Please click here for current specific PhD project opportunities.
NIKITA MAE TUANQUIN, virtual reality
Nikita Mae Tuanquin believes that virtual reality technology can be a powerful tool to motivate people to start exercising.
A couple of years ago, Nikita Mae Tuanquin started using the Xbox Kinect every day. She has always liked playing video games, and once she started to feel the benefits of exercising with the Kinect, she started researching the science of fitness. She quickly realised that one of the strongest barriers to exercise is motivation.
Now, Nikita Mae is just a few months into her three-year PhD programme at the HIT Lab, but she is already dreaming of ways to use virtual reality to help people get moving. “Especially in the digital age, it is difficult for people to feel motivated to exercise, but we can use technology to motivate people to engage in fitness,” she says.
This approach to exercise is called “exergaming,” and the Xbox Kinect is an archetype of the technology. The system, advertised as “full-body gaming,” features cameras and microphones that enable it to recognise players’ gestures, faces, and voices. According to Nikita Mae, “It’s a fun way to get moving.”
Nikita Mae came to the HIT Lab NZ from the University of Cordilleras in the Philippines, where she completed a master’s degree in information technology with a specialisation in web technologies. Before she came to the lab, she was interested in augmented reality. She says, however, “When I first used the VR headsets, I thought, ‘Wow! I want to do this.’”
Nikita Mae is currently writing her proposal for her PhD thesis, and soon she will be using virtual reality technology to design fully immersive, engaging exergaming experiences.
AMIT BARDE, augmented reality
Amit Barde studies spatial audio reproduction for wearable devices.
Amit Barde, a current PhD candidate from India, researches spatial audio reproduction for wearable hybrid interfaces.
Before he came to the HIT Lab, Amit completed a joint programme with the SAE Institute, earning a degree in audio engineering from Middlesex University and a diploma in recording arts in Melbourne. He then worked on various projects, such as short films and plays.
With his background in audio engineering and his interest in audio-centric research, Amit is a unique candidate for the programne. To prospective PhD candidates, he says that it’s okay if you don’t have all of the skills now that you will need for the degree. “Not everyone can do everything,” he says, “and even if you could, it’s good to have different perspectives. What’s important is that you are interested in the subject.”
Not even halfway through his programme, Amit has already successfully presented two papers to reputable conferences. He presented the first paper at the 140th Convention of the Audio Engineering Society (AES) in Paris, France . The second paper he presented at the International Conference for Auditory Displays (ICAD) in Canberra, Australia .
Together, his papers address the feasibility of integrating sound with wearable devices to help people navigate critical environments, such as driving and emergency situations, with minimal demands on attention.
Normally, drivers and first responders would have to look at a device’s screen to get information, but sound cues do not require this distraction. The most effective type of sound is binaurally spatialised audio. This type of sound most closely mimics our natural perception of the auditory environment. (The YouTube classic, “The Virtual Barber Shop,” is a great example.)
As part of his research, Amit is attempting to study how this technique can be applied for sound reproduction over a bone conduction headset. Bone conduction passes sound through the skull to the inner ear, keeping the ears free to hear ambient sound. This allows users to hear both auditory feedback from the device and sounds from their surroundings, thus improving safety and efficiency.
Bone conduction technology is already affordable and commercially available; for example, Amit used the AfterShokz Sportz 3, which currently retails for US$40. The technology, however, is not widely used, and with his research, Amit wants to expand the usefulness and scope of such hardware. “There is enough research being done with binaural spatialisation with headphones, but it’s primarily for entertainment. We’re looking for more productivity-based applications.”
At this stage, Amit has demonstrated that bone conduction headsets allow users to localise binaural audio  and that pairing sound with visual cues from a Recon Jet display helps people find targets . In the future, Amit hopes to build a working prototype of a hybrid headset that can then be refined for the consumer market.
At the HIT Lab, Amit appreciates the accessibility of the faculty. “I can easily walk into my advisors’ offices, and that’s very important.” He also enjoys living in New Zealand. “The day I landed in New Zealand, I felt comfortable,” he says. “The moment I arrived, I felt no apprehension. People are so friendly here.”
His time at the HIT Lab, however, has not been without challenges. “I feel like the least qualified person in the lab,” he laughs, in reference to his lack of experience with computer programming. Fortunately, the Lab is a supportive, multidisciplinary environment: “I’ve always found someone to help me implement my ideas.”
 Barde, A., Helton, W. S., Lee, G., & Billinghurst, M. (2016, May). Binaural Spatialisation over a Bone Conduction Headset: Minimum Discernable Angular Difference. In Audio Engineering Society Convention 140. Audio Engineering Society.
 Barde, A., Ward, M., Helton, W. S., Lee, G., & Billinghurst, M. (2016, July). A Bone Conduction Based Spatial Auditory Display as Part of a Wearable Hybrid Interface. In The 22nd International Conference on Auditory Display. ICAD.