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The Bionics and Cognitive Science Centre

Research Students Opportunities

Possible Research Project Areas for Honours and Post-Graduate Students

The Bionics and Cognitive Science Centre is interested in recruiting suitable honours and graduate students with a background in cognitive science, behavioural studies, psychology, IT or related fields such as engineering and philosophy. Supervisory capacity exists in the areas of perception, virtual reality, road safety/driver behaviour, sports psychology and developmental psychology. More specifically, research students are sought for the following project areas. This list is not exhaustive - the ideas here may suggest other related projects that you might find interesting.

Sensory substitution using touch

One area of possible research is in developing tactile devices for the blind and deaf-blind so that they can access information on computer screens. There are two age groups in particular to whom this research is likely to apply - school children and the elderly. There are many devices around with which people are trying to achieve some kind of tactile interface, but none are successful yet. There is also the possibility of adding sound cues to tactile interfaces as a substitute for vision, at least for blind computer users.

Another possibility is the development of a transducer that transforms speech and environmental sounds into patterns on the skin that can be used by the deaf to substitute for hearing. Again, some work has been done in this area, but no really effective sensory substitution device has yet been developed.

2D and 3D object perception using haptics

To what extent is active touch important in recognizing or understanding stimuli? Answers so far have been varied. This question has implications for training methods in particular.

The haptic sense can be broken down into a number of components; one is the distinction between kinaesthesis and cutaneous components; the cutaneous components can be further subdivided.  What importance does each of these components have in normal haptic perception?

What tactile patterns are optimal for perception? Should they be simple or complex, be presented consciously or unconsciously, be sequential in nature or presented in parallel? Is attention important in understanding tactile patterns?

Temperature perception

In a recent honours project the student examined the effect of one's own movement on perception of temperature of a surface. Many other possibilities exist for examining the way in which temperature perception is affected by what is concurrently seen, heard, or in some other way perceived.

Tactile and haptic illusions

One avenue of investigation is in comparing the kinds of illusions that occur in both vision and haptics to determine whether there are common mechanisms across modalities. Another is in trying to find or explain new haptic illusions (e.g., the Tardis effect in which the inside of objects feels bigger than the outside.)

Integration versus competition across sensory modalities

This is the topic of current PhD research. Visual and haptic virtual cubes that vary in size are being presented, alone or together, to examine the extent to which disparate objects are integrated. This work could be extended to different types of objects and other aspects such as shape.

Virtual touch

We have an exograsp that is still very much in the developmental stages. It provides the sensation of holding a virtual object that can be simultaneously seen on a computer screen. A sizeable project is to add more realism to the cutaneous aspects of the exograsp (i.e., virtual perception of surface detail such as texture and flexibility).

The exograsp potentially provides the opportunity to investigate a variety of phenomena and deal with broader questions such as what optimal levels of sensory integration are optimal for providing realism in the virtual world

Measuring presence in the virtual world through games

This is related to the work of a current honours student. She is looking at the way in which personality and perceived presence of other players affects the kinds of behaviours exhibited in the SIMS game. This is a rapidly expanding area with many aspects to investigate in conventional computer games and renditions such as arcade games and simulators.

Using EEG output in order to control cursor movement on a computer screen

We have the basic equipment to work on this and the programming, but quite a bit of time will be required by anyone choosing this area to learn how to use the equipment. This is a real frontier technology area, one that has applications for the handicapped and able-bodied.

Tactile memory -  does it exist?

We tend to think that each modality must have its own memory storage system, but is there really a tactile/haptic system that is separate from other modalities or does this system merely tap into the spatial and verbal areas common to other senses? How could this be tested?

Memory in Alzheimer's and other dementias

There are many tests being developed (some of them more for show than for accuracy) to demonstrate to people that they do or do not have dementia. Which ones are diagnostically useful? Are any of the available programs to improve memory really helpful in staving off dementia or even in helping with "normal" memory loss in aging? There is an opportunity in the longer term to develop a better test or a better improvement program.

Road safety & driver behaviour

A wide range of projects are possible in the road safety and driver behaviour field, particularly in areas related to motorcyclists, heavy vehicles, fleets, the interaction between road safety and the environment. Projects could involve a combination of analyses of mass crash databases (such as VicRoads CrashStats, a database of all crashes in Victoria ), survey design and administration (online or hard copy), and direct observation of road user behaviour.

Sports psychology

Opportunities exist for research projects examining the ties between daily activity and fitness and/or health status or wellbeing, the use of experiential activities (e.g. team building, leadership courses, Outward Bound-type courses, etc) as learning tools, and risky and risk taking behaviour.

Virtual reality as a training tool

Due to cost and safety factors an increasing number of training applications are provided using virtual reality (e.g. flight simulators used to train pilots, and battle tank simulators used to train operators for Australia 's new Abrahms battle tanks). In ongoing research we are examining ways of improving the use of simulators with the addition of haptic (i.e. touch-related) feedback.

More Info

See the General Arts Faculty Guidelines for acceptance into Honours, Masters by research and PhD programs.

Also see the Honours and Postgraduate Studies sections of the Humcass Homepage.

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