Feature Story

The Next 100 Years

We asked researchers to transport themselves into the future.Here’s what Dr. Elizabeth Croft from the Faculty of Applied Science had to say.

If you could transport yourself to the future, what would you be teaching/researching in 100 years?

Luckily for me, the topic of ‘human-robot interaction’ will still be a hot one — same problems, different tools — as in, ‘People and robots, how do we get along?’

Elizabeth Croft, Professor and Associate Dean, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Applied Science

A: In 100 years, I imagine that biorobotics will be a well-established undergraduate and graduate program, with topics ranging from psychology, reproduction, self-reconfiguration and healing.

For the capstone project, undergraduate students will design, grow and program their robots using code that runs on a biologically based computer programmed by wireless ‘thought packets’. The project lab will be very quiet when the deadline approaches, as students focus on establishing a strong link to download their code.

Senior students with a management bent will be able to take courses in organizational management of human-robot teams, and perhaps read texts on Getting the Most Out of Your Cyborg Workforce or When Robots Go Wrong: Re-motivating and Reprogramming.

Arguments will break out in the research lab about whose robot (or algorithm) is ‘at fault’ when one robot shares a particularly bad idea with others and then as a pack, they all pick on one of the smaller robots.

Luckily for me, the topic of ‘human-robot interaction’ will still be a hot one — same problems, different tools — as in, People and robots, how do we get along? Questions of what should the robot do, how do we share, operate safely, communicate, take turns, teach robots, and generally get along together will continue to be problems we solve. Certainly the efforts we make to establish the ‘rules of engagement’ now, will be foundational to our future relationships.

How will the work you are doing now influence your field in 100 years?

A: I work on human-robot interaction — how we design robot systems to work together with people safely and collaboratively. We ask and answer questions, not about what robots can do, but what they should do and then translate our findings to behaviours and finally, into algorithms and controllers that govern the way that robots interact with others. Applications include human-robot turn taking, handover, collaborative lifting, teaching and even hide and seek.

Explore this Series

Nearly every researcher searches for something — a clue, an anomaly, a missing link — that will unlock new knowledge about the world we live in.

In the first 100 years at UBC, discovery was paramount. The drive for invention and the need to understand cause and effect ushered in decades of eureka moments in labs, classrooms and in the minds of students and professors alike as relationships between things revealed themselves. 

But what will the next 100 years bring? We asked researchers across a range of disciplines at UBC to transport themselves into the year 2115 and imagine what they might be teaching and researching.

Discover what they envision and travel with them into the future.

UBC is proud to mark its 100th anniversary as a global leader in education, research innovation and community engagement.
Learn more about the UBC Centennial.

Story Credits

Thank you to all of our participants for their willingness to predict the unknown.

Special thanks to Tim Herron, Events and Technical Services Manager, Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability, for giving us lots of space to be creative and Public Affairs for suggestions on researchers for the story.

Story team: UBC Communications and Marketing — Martin Dee, UBC Photographer; Margaret Doyle, Digital Storyteller; Michael Kam, Web Developer; Lina Kang, Web Coordinator; Adrian Liem, Manager, Digital Communications; Mark Pilon, Designer; Aida Viziru, Web Interaction Designer; Matt Warburton, Manager, Graphic Design.

Published: March 2016