Prototyping the future

17 April 2017 | Education
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The R.T.O Bot can clear the ocean bed in two weeks to make way for the Mega Seaties Project, the first underwater residential area to be completed in 2160

University Town came alive on 12 April with some 15 prototypes and interactive experiences worthy of a science fiction blockbuster by students from this semester’s NUS Communications and New Media module NM4225: Design Fiction.

The module, taught by Assistant Professor Andrew Quitmeyer, uses various techniques of design thinking and emergent technologies to explore alternative future scenarios and debate its impact. Students learn skills such as robotics, industrial design, storytelling and graphic design, and wrap their concepts into interactive multimedia experiences.

The goal, like any science fiction, is not about presenting a crazy future, but about offering a view of what could happen and making us think about how we can change or halt it, or if it’s positive, how we can work towards that collective ideal.

This semester’s theme focused on “Frontiers of Ecological Interaction”. Students were tasked with exploring technologies and issues arising from humanity's interactions with nature.

“The goal, like any science fiction, is not about presenting a crazy future, but about offering a view of what could happen and making us think about how we can change or halt it, or if it’s positive, how we can work towards that collective ideal,” explained Asst Prof Quitmeyer. “This is my first semester teaching here and I was warned that students in Singapore were very by the book so I would not get very crazy ideas. However, I’ve honestly been blown away by how much they have pushed this beyond the boundaries of a conventional school project,” he added.

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The Transplant Facility aims to preserve nature and the human race by growing babies in tree trunks

One project on display was the REEForm-The-Ocean (R.T.O) Bot, developed by fictitious industry leader Seaway Corp. to efficiently wipe out marine lifeforms to make way for an underwater residential living area. The R.T.O. Bot makes use of motion sensors and is powered by a user’s greedy thoughts. Without a computing background, Year 4 student Chen Ying Cui spent hours watching online tutorials to incorporate coding and movement in her robot. “Though I presented a fictional storyline, I hope people can draw the link to our current world and look at how we are doing the same to trees in the present – cutting them down to clear land for the population,” said Ying Cui on her inspiration for the project.

There was also The Transplant Facility, an idea by Year 4 students Jan Lee and Umi Amirah. Their project imagines a future where only 7 per cent of the Earth’s forests remain and fertility rates are nearing zero, with the likelihood of humans becoming endangered by 2545. The Transplant Facility calls for all healthy adult citizens to forcibly surrender their reproductive cells to create embryos that are transplanted within a tree, in an attempt to preserve nature as well as the human race, producing individuals with an inherent bond with the natural environment. The model came complete with a crying baby. “We felt that having a strange project would make people fear the possibility of The Transplant Facility becoming a reality in the future, and they would hence reflect on these issues today and start making a change,” said Jan.

All the projects were featured at the Department’s annual digital art exhibition Random Blends at the ArtScience Museum on 25 March.

“The module challenged us to get out of our comfort zones to imagine alternative futures while delivering a key message. Asst Prof Quitmeyer is awesome and I am sure future batches will enjoy this module as much as I did,” said Year 4 student Wayne Ng.

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The Spring 2017 NM4225 class imagined their own science fiction futures