Death at the hands of tech

We are truly living in an age where anyone with a great idea can have the tools to make it happen. Look at self publishing musicians and writers, look at indy app developers, look at that fella who made a gun using a 3D printer!

Because of the advancements in areas such as battery technology, mobile computing, IoT etc - and because of websites like KickStarter, clever ideas are quickly becoming things of reality.

A lot of these ideas are brand new and utterly innovative - things that the world has not yet seen. This introduces a problem - how do we keep them safe? How do we keep the users safe? How do we manage our customers expectations about our new product and educate them about what it will and will not do?

In this vlog I explore this topic, largely as a result of almost being killed by an innovative idea into which I had put too much faith!

Full video transcript

This is a OneWheel - it’s essentially a powered board that you stand on and ride, like a longboard, but with only one wheel… hence its name - clever huh?

Why am I showing you a OneWheel? - Well because it almost killed me.

As I was flying through the air preparing to press some flesh with the road, it occurred to me that as technology evolves, more and more we put our lives into its hands without a second thought!

And this should be something anyone who works in tech should pause and think about. If the person coding the firmware overlooks some random edge case, and this bug makes it through QA’s review and remains there, lying in wait deep in the code, for the perfect storm of events to take place to raise its ugly head and shut the board down at full speed - it could kill someone.

It used to be that the worst that could happen if a coder got something wrong was the printer wouldn’t work or your screen would go blue, or an email would be sent to your contacts declaring your undying love for them… inconvenient sure, embarrassing yes - but deadly these bugs were not!

When you stop to think about it you’ll realise you put your life into the hands of something someone has built, someone has coded - every day. We are pretty happy with things like bridges and snorkels - in the main, not much to go wrong here. But we are also happy with cars as planes and these both run sophisticated software to make sure they operate at the optimum level. Thankfully for these sectors there’s all sorts of legislation and process to ensure that in the main - cars and planes are super safe.

But as we know cars are getting smart and there have been several high profile cases of autonomous vehicles in accidents, some of which have tragically, been fatal.

And as technology evolves, as the internet of things gets bigger there will be more innovation, more creativity, more danger and LESS regulation… and we, the innovators need to be mindful and responsible when creating amazing products.

There first, and most obvious thing is to have robust R&D, quality control, testing processes to ensure our end products are safe - and this is something I sure you are all doing splendidly…

However as I tumbled through the air, not, it turns out, because of a bug in the OneWheel but becuse of my own ignorance, I had an epiphany - users are far more likely not to die at the hands of your products if they understand, even at a high level, how they work…

Let’s take the OneWheel as an example. The OneWheel uses very clever software and hardware to balance me and power me down the road at speeds of up to 22 mph. It’s an amazing bit of kit, but one, which if I don’t respect it, try to understand its idiosyncrasies, it could kill me.

It does not take a scientist or engineer to understand the basics of how it works. The OneWheel has a finite amount of power available in its lithium ion batteries. It uses this power to balance me and move me forward. The more power I user to move, the less power is available to balance. At some point I could ask for too much power at which point something gives (in this case the balance assistance) and I nose dive at nearly 20 miles an hour… If I had considered this as a user I probably not have fallen off. Why?

Well because moments before my fall the software had alerted me that the battery was less than 20%. I understand how batteries work and should have considered there was less power available at 20% than 100%. Secondly I was riding the OneWheel uphill into a head wind. If I was on a bike I would have been working very hard - common sense stuff - but I was treating the OneWheel as if it was made of magic and fairy dust.

If I could have just lined up these simple facts I might have realised that I was asking quite a lot of a device with a low battery, I might have decided to back off and not push it so hard and avoid the fall.

As the product Owner, perhaps Future Motion (the manufactures of the OneWheel) could have found a way to communicate this pretty simple concept to the end user, to me. Arming me with sufficient information to use the device more safely.

As users I believe we should take responsibly to understand the tech in which we put so much faith. As product creators, in addition to all the due diligence, quality control and testing - we should think about how we can educate our users, our customers - other humans on how our products work, their weaknesses and strengths so we can use them more safely.

We work on all kinds of projects from mobile apps to complete IoT solutions - making sure they are safe and finding ways of help users understand their idiosyncrasies - if you would like to ask any questions or find our more please get in touch!

If you want to learn more about how Compsoft Creative's awesome team can help you with your innovative project then please get in touch!
 
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