Within twenty years, hands-free driving will be a reality. The prediction (at least for freeway driving), from Jim Toal, senior manager of product marketing, Vishay Optoelectronics has me in a state of skeptical excitement.
While I'm ready for the day when I can hit "Home" on the center console display and sit back and relax for the two-hour journey after a grossly super-sized dinner at my father's house, I've never had much luck with car automation. For all the functionality that adaptive headlights and electronic stability control — as well as rain and ambient light sensors — could offer, I'm still burned, and made a bit poorer, by the sensors currently in my car (airbag, tire pressure, etc.).
The ratio between examples when the sensors helped avoid accidents and/or injury and instances when the sensors failed or malfunctioned, causing costly repairs, is skewed in favor of sensor failure.
I may not be a gearhead, but I'm intelligent enough to know that a bright light on the dash (I prefer the tried and tested "idiot lights" my father used) means something is awry. Most recently, it was the airbag sensors to malfunction — and when the red warning light consists of a stick figure meeting its demise by slamming its circular face into the dash, you tend to move on the repair more quickly than a tire pressure sensor.
I have no problem with the cost of ongoing car maintenance. I prefer to take the wheel without concerns over oil leaks, random overheating, and shoddy tires that deflate when the wind hits them from the south (woes that resulted from an inability to part with my '98 Neon). All I ask for is an explanation.
Perhaps the situation is a result of a generational shift within the mechanic profession, or the difficulty in keeping up with the ins and outs of the modern automobile, but I simply cannot stomach the "sensors fail" explanation every time I hand over my Visa and work some simple math to make sure the mortgage payment is still covered. The answer is often dependent on the age of the mechanic, car service representative, or whatever the cute term the company uses to make its employees more endearing to customers. What exactly is a "visitor welcoming ambassador"?
The more experience the mechanic has under his/her belt, the more likely he/she is to grumble and gripe about the sensor, and assure you that you're fine without replacing it, as long as you can stand the bright red and yellow lights on the dash. The younger the mechanic, the more diagnostic the approach. He/she will run a series of tests, flag everything that needs to be replaced, offer no explanation why, ask you to sign off on the work order, and, when asked why the sensor failed, he/she will point to the screen and say, "Because it was flagged on the test."
The situation is dangerously similar in the medical profession as well, exemplifying the growing disconnect between passing along tribal knowledge and willful ignorance resulting from an overdependence on technology. The latter is an ongoing theme in discussions with design engineering industry veterans; most are taken aback by the faith the new generation instills in test, measurement, and analysis software.
As I was mingling with the nominees in attendance for the Medical Design Excellence Awards on June 11, 2014 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, I had the pleasure of joining a discussion that focused on the value of physical models. At the table were representatives from a manufacturer as well as a product design consultancy.
Now, if you have read my work in the past, you'll note a sweeping aversion to consultants — many are fine-talking, big thinkers, but most lack any ability to execute. I often suggest that "scope creep" was coined by a consultant looking for a billable way to define underachievement, but in this case the manufacturer praised the design firm for its dedication to highly detailed modeling. It's difficult to imagine how a patient/customer will interact with a design without a physical mockup, and the prototype allowed the manufacturer to alter the design in the early stages of development. According to the manufacturer, many of the changes would've otherwise been missed without a physical model, and caused severe detriment to the project in terms of time-to-market and cost. In my experience, you simply cannot be 100 percent reliant upon virtual models and I find the generational disconnect and impending overreliance on technology troubling.