Currently Funded Research Projects

The MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development has a number of funded research projects running at any given point in time.

All MARCS research projects aim to have a profound impact in their particular field and often involve collaboration with local and international researchers.

Below is a detailed list of each currently funded project, complete with a relevant problem and solution that gives a brief overview of the research.

Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience Program (BENS)


Hardware implementation of spiking neural network architectures for sensory and learning systems

Problem: Current Micro-Aerial Vehicles have inadequate agility, manoeuvrability, and navigational capabilities (sensors and algorithms) for safe, effective operation in cluttered urban environments.

Solution: We will develop novel computer vision algorithms for neuromorphic event-based sensors to create a highly efficient, activity-driven system that can meet the power-, weight-, and size-constraints of MAVs.

Prof. André van Schaik, Saeed Afshar
Department of Defence 2016 – 2019


Hardware Acceleration for Neural Systems

Problem: To really understand how brains work, we need to simulate neural networks of a size larger than possible on standard computers. Several expensive electronic systems are being developed world wide to allow this but the output from these projects will only be accessible to a few researchers at the Universities where this work is being done.

Solution: Our researchers are developing such an electronic system using cheaply available commercial hardware and they will make their design and software available for free, so that many brain researchers worldwide may benefit from this capability to enhance their understanding of the brain.

Prof. André van Schaik, Dr. Mark Wang
ARC Discovery Project 2014 – 2016


Event-based image sensors for optical space situational awareness

Problem: DST Group is developing a ground based Space Situational Awareness capability to monitor objects in space above Australia. Current CCD image sensors have a low dynamic range, and their long exposure time makes them unable to image fast moving objects.

Solution: Event-based cameras have a much higher dynamic range and temporal resolution than CCD cameras, and we are developing novel image processing algorithms to enable these event-based cameras to be used for space situational awareness applications.

Prof. André van Schaik, Dr. Gregory Cohen 
Department of Defence 2016 - 2017


Event Based Sensor Space Situational Awareness Experiment 

Problem: DST Group is developing a ground based Space Situational Awareness capability to monitor objects in space above Australia. Current CCD image sensors have a low dynamic range, and their long exposure time makes them unable to image fast moving objects.

Solution: Event-based cameras have a much higher dynamic range and temporal resolution than CCD cameras, and we are developing novel image processing algorithms to enable these event-based cameras to be used for space situational awareness applications.

Prof. André van Schaik, Dr. Gregory Cohen 
Department of Defence 2017


Design of a space-based, low-power star tracking system using event-based cameras 


Problem: 
Current computer vision systems do not have the dynamic range to deal with the range of brightness of objects encountered in space, or the temporal resolution to deal with the high speed of some of these objects. Standard cameras also have a very high data rate, which is incompatible with the limited communication bandwidth of a small satellite.

Solution: Event-based cameras have a much higher dynamic range and temporal resolution, and much lower data rates than standard cameras, and we are developing novel image processing algorithms to enable these event-based cameras to be used for space situational awareness applications.

Prof. André van Schaik, Dr. Gregory Cohen 
Department of Defence 2017 - 2018


Neuromorphic Cognition for Micro-Aircraft Applications 

Problem: Current Micro-Aerial Vehicles have inadequate agility, manoeuvrability, and navigational capabilities (sensors and algorithms) for safe, effective operation in cluttered urban environments.

Solution: We will develop novel computer vision algorithms for neuromorphic event-based sensors to create a highly efficient, activity-driven system that can meet the power-, weight-, and size-constraints of MAVs.

Prof. André van Schaik, Dr Gregory Cohen 
Department of Defence 2016 – 2017


ARC Training Centre in Cognitive Computing for Medical Technologies [via University Melbourne]

Problem: There is a lack of a trained workforce in Australia and abroad with expertise in using cognitive computing technologies in medical contexts.

Solution: This project aims to create a workforce that is expert in developing, applying and interrogating cognitive computing technologies in data-intensive medical contexts, to facilitate the next generation of data-driven and machine learning-based medical technologies. The Centre will provide a world-class industry-driven research training environment for PhD students and postdoctoral researchers, who will lead the medical technology industry into a new era of data-driven personalised and precision medical devices and applications, based on a combination of research, industry and entrepreneurial skills that they will acquire through the Centre.

Prof. André van Schaik
ARCG Industrial Transformation Training Centres 2017 - 2022


Clinical Trials of the First Bionic Voice Prosthesis for Voice-loss Children 

Problem: Despite the emerging progress in many fields of bionics and bio-signal processing, laryngectomy patients still rely on the gold standard of the TE voice prosthesis which is intrinsically limited to let them step beyond a hoarse, whispered voice.

Solution: This project designs the first functional Bionic Voice prosthesis for children with Tracheostomy. The proposed Bionic Voice is a non-invasive electronic solution, which substitutes the voice generation function of an amputated or bypassed larynx.

Dr. Farzaneh Ahmadi, Alan Cheng, Daniel Novakovic
The Children's Hospital at Westmead 2016 - 2017


Designing a Bionic Voice Prosthesis to Restore Natural Voice for Laryngectomy Patients 

Problem: Despite the emerging progress in many fields of bionics and bio-signal processing, laryngectomy patients still rely on the gold standard of the TE voice prosthesis which is intrinsically limited to let them step beyond a hoarse, whispered voice.

Solution: We will design the first bionic voice prosthesis controlled by respiratory system and the neural/neuromuscular drive of the missing larynx using novel signal processing algorithms and a miniature loudspeaker to provide a more naturally sounding voice.

Prof. André van Schaik, Dr. Farzaneh Ahmadi
The Garnett Passé and Rodney Williams Memorial Foundation Fellowship 2015 - 2019


Vital Core Wearable Technology

Problem: Sleep Apnea diagnosis typically requires overnight sleep study in a dedicated clinic using cumbersome technology.

Solution: Next generation wearable VitalCore technology is non-invasive, can be used in your own home and can be worn 24-7/ 7 days a  week to allow for diagnosis and further monitoring for personalised treatment.

Dr. Paul Breen, Dr. Gaetano Gargiulo
Cooperative Research Centre Project Grant 2017 - 2020


Speech and Language Learning

ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language

Problem: What we know about language – how it is patterned, learned, processed and adapted – is disproportionately influenced by research into major languages like English in monolingual, Western cultural settings, yet Australia sits at the epicentre of the world's linguistic diversity.

Solution: The ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, led by ANU with partners UWS, UQ and UniMelb, will transform our understanding of the languages of the Indo-Pacific region and address challenges raised by language diversity for education, social access and well-being, and support the development of communication and learning technologies vital for a truly multilingual and future-proofed Australia.

Prof. Anne Cutler, A/Prof. Paola Escudero, A/Prof. Caroline Jones
ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language 2014 - 2020


The seeds of literacy in infancy: empirical specification of the acoustic determinants of language acquisition

Problem: Currently dyslexia cannot be diagnosed until reading instruction begins.

Solution: Devise diagnostic tests appropriate for 6-month-old infants, administer these to infants not-at-risk and at-risk for dyslexia (due to having a dyslexic parent), and follow them through until reading age.

Prof. Denis Burnham, Prof. Usha Goswami
ARC Discovery Project 2011 - 2015


Early precursors of linguistic development

Problem: Delayed or deficient linguistic abilities can be particularly debilitating, but such problems are not evident until children are two to three years of age, and in the case of written language, until they are five or six years.

Solution: Conduct longitudinal studies from early infancy (six months) through to onset of school across different language backgrounds investigating brain functions, auditory skills, parental speech input, and how the infant brain reacts to hearing aids and cochlear implant input in order to identify critical developmental factors & plan for intervention procedures.

Prof. Denis Burnham
ARC Extension to the HEARing CRC 2014 – 2019


Alveo: Human communication science virtual laboratory

Problem: It is difficult for a researcher from one discipline to apply the tools and techniques of another discipline, or to explore data collected under one paradigm via a completely different analytical perspective. Moreover, research conducted in isolation entails inefficient repetition of analysis of local data sets.

Solution: The Alveo Virtual Laboratory provides easy access to a variety of databases and the integrated use of a range of analysis tools, from linguistics, natural language processing, speech science, psychology, music and acoustic processing. It will foster inter-disciplinary research and facilitate the discovery of new methods for solving old problems.

Prof. Denis Burnham, Dr. Dominique Estival
NeCTAR Grant 2013 – 2019


Understanding bilingual language acquisition in northern Indigenous Australia: phonological, lexical, orthographic, and family factors

Problem: How do young Indigenous children in northern Australia grow up bilingual in English and in Kriol, an English-based creole language?

Solution: This research will establish the linguistic, educational, and family factors in successful language acquisition for these children, with implications for long-term health, social inclusion, education and employment.

A/Prof. Caroline Jones
ARC Future Fellowship 2012 – 2017


Understanding different speakers vs. different accents: apples and apples or pears

Problem: Speech perception is possible because humans are able to normalize the variability in the speech signal. To date, we do not know whether the underlying skills to cope with different speakers and accents are uniquely human and specific to certain languages.

Solution: Researchers at MARCS will use innovative technology to unveil the details of an important component of human cognition, namely speech comprehension. The findings will lay foundations to advance both automatic speech recognition systems and hearing aids for human communication.

A/Prof. Paola Escudero
ARC Discovery Project 2013 – 2015


Children's generalisation and adaptation to unfamiliar regional accents reveal the path of early word learning

Problem: Young children recognise that unfamiliar people may speak with a different accent than they hear in their homes. What is not yet understood is how they learn to recognise words spoken in unfamiliar accents.

Solution: Our studies of infants' and toddlers' early word-learning will track the emergence of flexible word recognition, from early dependence on the accent they hear in their homes, to gradual improvement in generalisation to words spoken in unfamiliar accents

Prof. Catherine T. Best, Dr. Christine Kitamura
ARC Discovery 2013-2015 extended through 2017


Enhancing language learning via auditory training and interaction

Problem: Learning to understand a foreign language is difficult for adults and children. Foreign sounds that distinguish words and that are not found in the learner's native language are particularly difficult, yet they are the building blocks for communication.

Solution: Infant-parent interaction is likely to help language learning for both infant and adult, as it aids cognitive and linguistic development. The project will capitalize on the benefits of infant-parent interaction when presenting a language learning tool with targeted stories and auditory training that aims at enabling and enhancing foreign language processing in both parents and children.

A/Prof. Paola Escudero
ARC Future Fellowship 2017 – 2020

Ageing, Communication and Mental Wellbeing

Real-life Impact of Hearing Disorders

Problem: Although audiometric tests provide an index of hearing impairment in elderly adults, it is unclear how impairment impacts on communication ability in real-world listening situations or how such communication is affected by cognitive abilities.

Solution: In a large group of elderly listeners we will assess hearing ability and model how working memory, comprehension skills and attention affects speech perception in difficult listening conditions.

Prof. Christopher Davis
ARC Extension to the HEARing CRC 2014 – 2019


I like you and I just can’t help it: Explaining automatic affective responses

Problem: Behaviour is not always the result of careful reflection, but is often driven by more immediate emotions or “gut reactions” to stimuli – automatic affective responses.

Solution: Investigate how automatic affective responses are acquired. We do this by examining the relative contribution of simple conditioning processes and complex cognitive processes to the acquisition of automatic affective responses.

Dr. Gabrielle Weidemann, Prof. Kate Stevens
ARC Discovery Project 2014 – 2016


Thinking Brains and Bodies: Distributed Cognition and Dynamic Memory in Australian Dance Theatre

Problem: What fosters creativity? How can it be studied and measured?

Solution: The dance studio offers an ideal setting to record and analyse behaviour that leads to creative outcomes distributed across a group. The time-course of generating ideas or “productivity function” can be traced and material generated in solo versus interactive improvisation conditions compared.

Prof. Kate Stevens, Prof. Kim Vincs, Prof. James Leach, Prof. Michael Nicholls, Ms Elizabeth Old, Dr. Scott deLahunta, Prof. David Kirsh
ARC Linkage Project, 2013-2018

Music Psychology

Developing a personalised Music Affect Recommender System

Problem: This project concerns the tools for computational creativity for composers and writers; it also in the long run flows into tools for students young and old to use for creative purposes.

Solution: To undertake important research on the perception and cognition of music and spoken text, leading to testable computational models of those processes.

Prof. Roger Dean , David Bainbridge, John Davis, Simon Chambers
ARC Linkage Grant 2015 – 2018


Psychological and neurophysiological mechanisms underlying human interaction in musical contexts

Problem: Human interaction in musical groups is a culturally widespread activity that showcases the remarkable capacity for precision and creativity in interpersonal coordination. Although such activity has beneficial effects, including the facilitation of prosociality and positive therapeutic outcomes, the psychological and neurophysiological mechanisms that underpin an individual’s ability to coordinate with others remain poorly understood.

Solution: This project investigates these mechanisms by examining relationships between behaviour, social factors, and brain structure and function in naturalistic and laboratory settings. The results will inform the assessment and treatment of clinical conditions that affect movement timing and social interaction.

Prof. Peter Keller
ARC Future Fellowship 2014 – 2018


Uncovering universal mechanisms for the communication of musical emotion

Problem: Music is a language of the emotions with a remarkable capacity to communicate across personal and cultural boundaries. The universal perceptual and cognitive mechanisms underlying musical communication are, however, not understood.

Solution: To address this, a computational toolbox of novel perceptual models will be developed and refined in light of behavioural experiments using musical and non-musical sonic stimuli. The resulting models will also be used to develop software to generate novel but perceptually grounded music.

Dr Andrew J. Milne
ARC DECRA 2017 – 2019


Mood Regulation Using Music: A Community Health Strategy for Improving Quality of Life in People with Mild Dementia

Problem: People with depression are more likely to develop dementia in later life and the presence of depression in people with dementia can tends to accelerate cognitive decline. Music can be an effective way to regulate moods in people with dementia. However, there is little understanding of how music should be used in order to target specific symptoms while still taking into account individual tastes and preferences, particularly in people with a history of mood disorders.

Solution: We have conducted experiments to determine how particular features of the music such as mode, tempo and lyrics interact with psychological symptoms of the individual listener. Based on these results we are developing a written protocol for the use of music with people with dementia which will be trialed in residential aged care facilities.

Dr Sandra Garrido
NHMRC: Dementia Research Development Fellowship 2016 – 2019


Fingers TAP to the music

Problem: Adults often experience a decline in fine motor skills with age and this impairs their performance in a number of daily tasks, such as cutting and preparing food, washing and dressing, writing or using computer keyboards, smartphones or tablets. These tasks are important features of maintaining an independent lifestyle.

Solution: A solution may be found in musical instrument playing, which involves training fine motor skills within a structured and enjoyable framework. This has been shown to be an optimal program for improving hand function of stroke patients.

This project will develop and assess sensori‐motor skills through a short-term piano training program for healthy older adults. In order to establish transfer effects that will aid daily life, the performance of participants in piano tasks will be correlated to participants' performance in generalised fine motor tasks and sensory discrimination tasks as assessed through standardised tests. If musical training produces generalised benefits for hand function in a healthy ageing population, there may be the potential for further development as a preventative as well as a rehabilitation technique for people with reduced hand function due to musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis, carpal tunnel or other joint pain.

Dr Jennifer MacRitchie 
Australian Association of Gerontology 2016 – 2017


Rhythmotron – Art and Science Collide

Problem: Non-musicians are often intimidated at the prospect of creating new music or interacting with musical instruments.

Solution: Rhythmotron is a musical installation where visitors with no prior musical or technical knowledge can control an algorithmic robotic percussion ensemble housed inside a re-purposed upright piano. It is designed to encourage free interaction and exploration, whilst producing infinitely flexible but appealing musical results. It will be operational during the 10-day CoLABS event at Bungarribee Park in September and October 2017.

Dr Andy Milne, Dr John Taylor, Dr Chris Stanton
ARTS Futures 2017


Interpersonal Entrainment in Music Performance [via Durham Uni]

Problem: Coordination in musical groups entails interpersonal entrainment, a process whereby two or more individuals interact with each other in a manner supporting the synchronization of body movements and musical sounds. Although musical entrainment is prevalent across the world’s cultures, the way in which it is manifested appears to vary as a function of differences in social, ritual and musical conventions. A better understanding of the process of interpersonal entrainment, and its cultural variation, is important for understanding basic mechanisms of human non-verbal communication

Solution: The objective of this project is to investigate key aspects of interpersonal musical entrainment in a comparative study of a variety of cultural settings. The project does so through the establishment of an international and interdisciplinary team, and by creating a shared corpus of prepared and annotated performance data. The material consists of videos recorded in fieldwork from a range of countries. Computer vision techniques and music information retrieval methods are used to quantify interpersonal entrainment in these recordings, and these objective measures are compared with subjective perceptual judgments of coordination.

Prof. Peter Keller
Arts & Humanities Research Council 2016 – 2018


How musical rhythms entrain the human brain

Problem: Brain mechanisms allow humans to feel the beat in musical rhythms. Although such activity facilitates pro-social and therapeutic effects, the underlying brain mechanisms remain unknown.

Solution: The project intends to examine the interface between musical rhythms, behaviour and brain activity to increase knowledge on a fundamental process of brain function: the dynamic coupling between perception and body movement. The project aims to provide insight into how psychological, environmental and neural mechanisms affect entrainment to rhythmic events and inform practices for education and clinical rehabilitation.

Dr Sylvie Nozaradan
ARC DECRA 2016 – 2018

Human- Machine Interaction

Factors affecting trust in autonomy when there is conflict between the strategy of the human and that of the autonomous function

Problem: With advances in Artificial Intelligence, computers are increasingly making important decisions for us. The research project investigates how to resolve conflicts between man and machine when there is disagreement as to the correct decision.

Solution: We will conduct empirical research with human participants investigating how aspects of the human-machine interface, such as transparency and anthropomorphism will impact participants trust toward the system.

Prof. Kate Stevens, Dr Chris Stanton
DSTG 2017