Innovative Spirit

Nine Innovators to Watch in 2019

These big thinkers are set to make news this year with exciting developments in transportation, energy, health, food science and more

(Catt Small, Dandelion, Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona, www.meowwolf.com, Sana Health, Mabel O. Wilson)
smithsonian.com

There’s a lot of hot technology out there, maturing fields in drones, 3D printing, and virtual and augmented reality, as well as futuristic tech like quantum computing and nanotechnology. But it all needs to be incorporated into industries that are solving real problems. Here are nine innovators who are working to bring practical advances to 2019’s most exciting technology.

Catt Small, Creative Technologist

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(Catt Small)

In the game SweetXheart, players act out a coming-of-age narrative, trying to fit in based on decisions they make, about what to wear, for instance. Ultimately, players see how these decisions can affect how people view them. It’s an example of an empathy game, but with a focus on game mechanics and active participation, and the protagonist is a black woman, so it also addresses race and gender and microagressions.

SweetXheart is the culmination of five years of work by Catt Small, in between her other jobs and projects as a product designer and game developer. Small, who co-founded Brooklyn Gamery and helps organize the Game Devs of Color Expo, walks the line between art, code, design and ethics, constantly experimenting to see how these fields fit together.

“I feel like everyone has a friend who is still playing Pokemon Go,” says Small. “He’ll be at dinner and he’s tapping on the phone, not even thinking about it, just pressing these buttons so he can keep playing and catching stuff, but it’s not really providing any value for his life. I think a lot about how we can actually provide value to people with video games, and what the difference between a valuable experience is, and an attention-grabbing, useless, mindless experience.”

Small intends to release SweetXheart as soon as this month, as an HTML game for web browsers on itch.io, the indie gaming alternative to Steam. Raised on games since her first Sega Genesis, Small says she’s nostalgic for a web that enabled more personal expression.

“Technology is a huge part of our lives, and I personally don’t want to have everything that I create be something that requires Facebook or Instagram to exist,” she says. “I really like finding ways to express myself that I can do on my own, and separate from all these other entities.”

About Nathan Hurst

Nathan Hurst blends a love of storytelling with a passion for science and the outdoors, covering technology, the environment, and much more. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Wired, Outside, Make: and Smithsonian.

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