Making technology that is more human

There’s a problem with technology: it’s not human.  Technology often can’t express when there are problems, especially when it doesn’t know problems exist. There’s a gap between the consumer and the product that can often only be bridged by a middle-man repair shop.

Creating products that communicate their problems effectively is one of the next major steps in user-friendliness.

Nowadays you have Bluetooth, WiFi, email, IM, SMS, and endless other ways of wirelessly connecting and communicating. The chips are small, inexpensive, and easy to integrate; there are WiFi memory cards for cameras that fit on a postage-stamp size product.

So why can’t my car send me an email?

Instead of having to guess when my car actually needs an oil change, brakes changed, etc., why can’t my car tell me myself?

My wife and I were talking over the weekend about cars, and how annoying and discouraging it is when your car needs repairs.  Sometimes, the only way you know your car needs work is when the mechanic breaks the news: your car needs work done. 

How to tell your car is in trouble:

  • You have a sticker on your windshield that gives you a hint when your next oil change is due — but that sticker might fade, peel, or be replaced.
  • Your car might have a computer that knows exactly what’s wrong, but won’t tell you unless it’s hooked up to a special diagnostic machine.
  • You may hear, feel, or smell something is wrong with your car and take it in
  • A mechanic, who may or may not properly identify and diagnose problems

My car’s name is Boomer.

People already anthropomorphize their cars: we give them names, recognize them as cute/strong/fast/smart. Cars are more than a tool; they often mirror their owner’s personality. 

Since cars already provoke an emotional response, I want to propose something: have my car tell me what’s wrong.  I’d rather hear that my car needs a repair from my car.

I would like to get an email from my car like this:

Dear Zack,

It’s been around 4,500 miles since my last oil change, and I’ve been doing really well — even though the oil people tell you to change oil every 3,000 miles.  But recently, I’ve noticed I’m not feeling as good while accelerating, and I think it’s because I need new oil.

Could you please change my oil?  Here are a few nearby places:

  • Option 1 – 1.3 miles away
  • Option 2 – 1.5 miles away 
  • Option 3 – 2.1 miles away ( I found a coupon online for 30% off!)
I’ll let you know if anything changes, but I will definitely need my oil changed within 1 week. 
Thanks!
Boomer, your VW Passat Wagon

How about getting a text message from your DVD player?

What other technology would you like to hear from? What obstacles are there to better communication by our products?

Author: Zack Katz

Zack Katz is the President of Katz Web Services and the developer of WordPress plugins with over 700,000 downloads. He lives in Southwest Colorado with his wife and two cats.

4 thoughts on “Making technology that is more human”

  1. Nice post.

    I think the technology you are talking about is already being developed.

    I remember one car prototype that even talked to it’s owner (cute robot included).

    I would like to see better “domotica” . Like the fridge giving you a text message when you are out of milk. I believe these things are also being developed.

    I heard that in the UK they know have smart shopping karts (carts?). You go online at home, enter the things you need, then in the shop, the kart tells you where everything is, what it costs, …

    I like those kinds of things.

    The obstacles are as always: money and people that don’t like change.

  2. @linuxowns – I’ve read the same articles about RFID chips on milk cartons alerting refrigerators about low milk levels…Egg cartons adding eggs to the list, etc., and I can’t help but feel like people are talking about the Jetsons rather than what’s realistic within the near future.

    I have a feeling that progress in these realms will take much longer than we might want, simply because they’re not necessary.

    Remember all the talk about a Smart House, that remembers your favorite settings and calibrates everything to your need? Bill Gates built his own version, and it was the Next Big Thing…then was off of the radar.

    What types of technologies would make life better/easier in a segment that needs improvement — and requires no extra steps for consumers initially?

  3. Bleh … Technology? Sounds like sloth …… (Sloth can also indicate a wasting due to lack of use, concerning a person, place, thing, skill, or intangible ideal that would require maintenance, refinement, or support to continue to exist.) …… Get off ur bum and get it done

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