‘Bad Roomba, Bad Roomba’

In some households, Fido is attacking the family’s Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner, according to an article headlined “When Dogs and Robots Collide, Somebody Needs a Talking To.” Real attacks, with barking, snarling, teeth marks and everything. Perhaps it’s a territorial thing. It’s an example of how we still have some kinks to work out in the colocation of robots, humans and their pets. There’s even an online forum for Roomba owners to swap tales and advice about Roomba/pet interaction.

The most popular advice: “Chastise the vacuum in front of the dog,” the article says. You shake your finger at the robot and sternly say, “Bad Roomba.” After that, the dog never nips at it again, one customer says.

Source: The Wall Street Journal 11 June 2008

Stanford researchers trying to develop robot like the Jetson’s Rosie

‘Not on my street!’ The problem with GPS routing efficiency

GPS navigation devices for vehicles are all the rage, but (pursuant to the Law of Unintended Consequences) they’re also causing problems for residential and rural neighborhoods that would like to keep traffic to a minimum. The problem is really that the GPS devices are too efficient. They find the shortest route between Point A and Point B — even if that happens to send the gas-guzzling vehicle hurtling through a residential or rural area where residents would rather not have so much zoomingly efficient traffic.

Update: The Wall Street Journal has a story on this today, 18 March 2008: “Steered Wrong: Drivers Trust GPS Even to a Fault: Blind Faith in Devices Trumps Common Sense; A Road to Nowhere.”

A Dutch research report says the best GPS device is one that smartly routes the driver around residential areas rather than through them. GPS devices that simply pick the shortest routes through residential neighborhoods are labeled “kid killers.” Ouch.

Vinnie Mirchandani adds: “As GPS units mesh with social networks and become more ‘savvy’ about traffic jams and construction sites, expect more drivers to be re-routed even more through residential paths.” He notes this could raise some interesting public policy issues.

Meanwhile, small British villages wish they could be taken off the GPS route maps. As The New York Times recently put it: Wedmore, like many British villages, has been overrun by trucks following routes set by GPS navigation devices that do not take into account their narrow roads and sharp corners.”

But trucks and tractor-trailers come here all the time, as they do in similarly inappropriate spots across Britain, directed by GPS navigation devices, which fail to appreciate that the shortest route is not always the best route.

“They have no idea where they are,” said Wayne Hahn, a local store owner who watches a daily parade of vehicles come to grief — hitting fences, shearing mirrors from cars and becoming stuck at the bottom of Wedmore’s lone hill. Once, he saw an enormous tractor-trailer speeding by, unaware that in its wake it was dragging a passenger car, complete with distraught passenger.

With villagers at their wits’ end, John Sanderson, chairman of the parish council, has proposed a seemingly simple remedy: getting the route through Wedmore removed from the GPS navigation systems used by large vehicles.

“We’d like them to have appropriate systems that would show some routes weren’t suitable for HGVs,” Sanderson said, using shorthand for heavy goods vehicle.

Some communities have begun putting up signs warning drivers to ignore their GPS devices on rural roads. But signs seem to be less and less effective as people increasingly rely more on GPS systems and less on maps, common sense or their own eyes.

Continue reading “‘Not on my street!’ The problem with GPS routing efficiency”

We’re good at complying with the Law of Unintended Consequences

Four examples of how good intentions can produce unexpected results:

Worldwide demand for ethanol biofuel is causing massive deforestation in Brazil to to grow sugarcane, the raw material for Brazilian ethanol. Brazil’s Cerrado region is being deforested at 7.4 million acres per year, a higher rate of clearing than in the Amazon. All of the remaining vegetation in Cerrado could be lost by 2030. — “Losing Forests to Fuel Cars,” The Washington Post (31 July 2007, registration required)

Clinical information technology systems — especially those known in the health care industry as computerized provider order entry (CPOE) systems — promise to improve health outcomes, reduce medical errors and increase cost efficiency. But a study found that hospitals adopting them must plan for “immense” workflow issues and a host of other unanticipated consequences. Doctors, for example, spent much more time at the computer inputting prescriptions and other orders. And system over-dependence created havoc during system failures. — Oregon Health & Science University / Science Daily (2 Aug. 2007)

Credit-card disclosure information intended to discourage consumers from overspending may have the opposite effect. The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 requires credit-card companies to provide scary details about high interest rates and long pay-off periods. But a study found that, for many shoppers, knowledge of mounting debt can be so depressing that it spurs them to binge shopping to alleviate the gloom. — The Wall Street Journal (18 July 2007, subscription required)

The new Massachusetts health care reform, which aims to rescue 550,000 residents from the ranks of the uninsured, has run into a snag: a shortage of doctors willing to take on new patients. — The Wall Street Journal (25 July 2007, subscription required)