What feature would you most like embedded designs to enable in systems you use?

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010 by Robert Cravotta

I remember the first time I heard about keyless entry on an automobile. I thought it was the most frivolous idea ever – that is, until I started using a car with said feature. The thing is, keyless entry and operation is not a feature that enables you to perform some new maneuver or drive further than before – rather it is a harbinger of a new class of features that rely on systems to be smarter and able to “infer the user’s intent” without explicitly using keyholes or data entry devices.

The wireless communication that takes place between the automobile and the key carried by the user enables an invisible interface between the user and the automobile. The automobile can act as if it recognizes the user and act accordingly. A user does not carry a recognized key, they cannot unlock or operate the automobile. Additionally, if the car is in an operating state and all authorized keys move out of range, the car notices this, notifies the operator, and can shut the vehicle down if a key is not brought back in range to the automobile. I experienced this when my wife drove the car up to the driveway, left the car running, and I pulled it into the garage, but I did not have my key on me and the car warned me about not being able to detect an authorized key.

When a user, carrying a recognized key approaches the automobile, the car senses the key and can begin to perform functions that make using the car simpler. For example, when I approach my car it turns on some lights on the door I am approaching; this makes it easier to see when it is dark and signals to me that the car recognizes me. There are other features in the car that turn on and off automagically that I like, such as automatic windshield wipers. Each of these features incorporates more smarts than manual systems and do a good enough job that they remove the cognitive load for managing those functions of the car from the operator.

One thing I like about these types of features is that they are embedded systems made visible. They often do not require the user to adjust to the system because one of their primary purposes is to adjust to the operator and infer the operator’s intent with significant accuracy. Designed correctly, the average user might never think about these types of features. They embodied the essence of an embedded system – invisible but indispensible to the proper operation of the system.

Do you have any examples of features that either exist or that you would like to see added to devices or systems? One thing I now would like to see is a cost effective way to make my house as smart as my car and let me in without requiring me to take the house key out and manually unlock the door. What ideas do you have?

4 Responses to “What feature would you most like embedded designs to enable in systems you use?”

  1. Angelo says:

    Hi Robert, nice article. One system that does do the invisible iPhone 4G. It uses a signature pattern initially ‘taught’ to the phone, then recognizes this pattern to unlock a specific feature of the phone. Also, I read somewhere about laptops being able to identify the user’s touch to open features.

  2. Angelo says:

    Edit: the iPhone 4G does “infer the user’s intent”

  3. Jon Titus says:

    How about more built-in self-test capabilities with meaningful error or problem messages to help consumers find and solve problems? Given we now have many products with displays, giving consumers useful information, rather than just flashing and LED, would be a great step forward.

  4. Robert M. Snyder says:

    If I am merging into freeway traffic on a short ramp that provides little space for acceleration, I would like my vehicle to “infer my intent” when I suddenly press the accelerator to the floor. At that moment, the vehicle should immediately infer that I need maximum acceleration, and it should immediately do everything possible to provide it. For example, it should immediately disengage the air conditioning compressor. It should also forget about fuel efficiency for the moment and immediately select the transmission gear and engine parameters that will deliver maximum power.

    I would not be surprised if this level of intelligence already exists on some vehicles, but I have not yet seen it. However, it seems to me that when the accelerator is floored, the driver’s intent is abundantly clear.

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