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The Magazine Of Queen's University

2017 Issue 3: Science on a small scale

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Editor's notebook: Imagine the future

Editor's notebook: Imagine the future

[Andrea Gunn with BitDrones]
Photo by Bernard Clark

I recently had the chance to interact with some BitDrones in the Human Media Lab. Imagine a formation of buzzing mini-drones hovering around you. You can pick one up and examine it, then let it go, only to see it move back to its designated spot mid-air. It is easy to imagine the possibilities of future BitDrones, able to change their shape or colour, enabling users to build 3D architectural or molecular models. But before that scenario becomes a reality, innovators like Roel Vertegaal and the graduate students at his lab need to build prototypes to see how they fit in with the human experience.

User error is a big part of that experience. Case in point: what did I do when a BitDrone came buzzing toward me during the photo shoot? I instinctively swatted it away, sending it spinning off-course into a corner of the room. At that moment, my mind was thinking “very large mosquito in my personal space!” not “innovative building block of the future.”

Luckily, the BitDrone was unharmed, and my dignity remained (somewhat) intact. But situations like this help innovators anticipate how humans can use – or abuse – technology.

Looking at human-robot interaction from a different angle, Queen’s engineering and philosophy graduate Jason Millar tackles the big ethical questions in technology. This article started out as a 1500-word assignment, which then grew to 1800 words. When writer Mark Witten presented it to me at 2200 words with the request to trim it as I saw fit, I couldn’t do it. This is another great story that explores complex ideas in the world of technology. I think it’s worth making space to explore big ideas in this magazine.I hope you agree.

Let me know what you think.

Andrea Gunn
Editor
review@queensu.ca
613.533.6000 x 77016

[cover of Queen's Alumni Review, Issue 2, 2017]