Category Archives: technology

Report: OLPC may eventually switch from Linux to Windows XP

Update on the usability of educational laptops: Interesting news about Sugar from Computer World:

OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte also told The Associated Press on Tuesday that an insistence upon using only free, open-source software had hampered the XO’s usability and scared away potential adopters.

The article doesn’t make it clear what about the usability of Sugar was problematic.

Report: OLPC may eventually switch from Linux to Windows XP

Trust in Automation

I’ve heard a great deal about trust and automation over the years, but this has to be my favorite new example of over-reliance on a system.

GPS routed bus under bridge, company says
“The driver of the bus carrying the Garfield High School girls softball team that hit a brick and concrete footbridge was using a GPS navigation system that routed the tall bus under the 9-foot bridge, the charter company’s president said Thursday.Steve Abegg, president of Journey Lines in Lynnwood, said the off-the-shelf navigation unit had settings for car, motorcycle, bus or truck. Although the unit was set for a bus, it chose a route through the Washington Park Arboretum that did not provide enough clearance for the nearly 12-foot-high vehicle, Abegg said. The driver told police he did not see the flashing lights or yellow sign posting the bridge height.

“We haven’t really had serious problems with anything, but here it’s presented a problem that we didn’t consider,” Abegg said of the GPS unit. “We just thought it would be a safe route because, why else would they have a selection for a bus?””

Link to original story (with pictures of sheared bus and bridge)

Indeed, why WOULD “they” have a selection for a bus? Here is an excerpt from the manual (Disclosure: I am assuming it’s the same model):

Calculate Routes for – Lets you take full advantage of the routing information built in the City Navigator maps. Some roads have vehicle-based restrictions. For example, a street or gate may be accessible by emergency vehicles only, or a residential street may not allow commercial trucking traffic. By specifying which vehicle type you are driving, you can avoid being routed through an area that is prohibited for your type of vehicle. Likewise, the ******** III may give you access to roads or turns that wouldn’t be available to normal traffic. The following options are available:

  • Car/Motorcycle
  • Truck (large semi-tractor/trailer
  • Bus
  • Emergency (ambulance, fire department, police, etc.)
  • Taxi
  • Delivery (delivery vehicles)
  • Bicycle (avoids routing through interstates and major highways)
  • Pedestrian”

gps-screen.gif

If we can assume no automation can be 100% reliable, at what point to people put too much trust in the system? At what point do they ignore the system in favor of more difficult methods, such as a paper map?At what point is a system so misleading that it should not be offered at all? Sanchez (2006) addressed this question and related type and timing of error to amount of trust placed in the automation. Trust declined sharply (for a time) after an error, so we may assume the Seattle driver might have re-checked the route manually had other (less catastrophic) errors occurred in the past.*

The spokesman for the GPS company is quoted in the above article as stating:

“Stoplights aren’t in our databases, either, but you’re still expected to stop for stoplights.”

I didn’t read the whole manual, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t say the GPS would warn you of stoplights, a closer analogy to the actual feature that contributed to the accident. This is a time where an apology and a promise of re-design might serve the company better than blaming their users.

*Not a good strategy for preventing accidents!

Other sources for information on trust and reliability of automated systems:

Lee, J.D. & See, K.A. (2004). Trust in Automation: Designing for Appropriate Reliance. Human Factors, 46, 50-80.

Parasuraman, R. & Riley, V. (1997). Humans and automation: use, misuse, disuse, abuse. Human Factors, 39, 230-253.

Wiegmann, D. A., Rich, A., Zhang, H. (2001). Automated diagnostic aids: the effects of aid reliability on users’ trust and reliance. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science, 2(4), 352-367.

The Cognitive Engineering Laboratory

Senior-friendly mobile phone

gillian-003.jpg

Verizon Wireless shows no shame in revealing that its Coupe by UTStarcom ($39.99 with a two-year contract) is aimed at retirees. And when you open this clamshell, you’ll know why. Besides its large, easy-to-read screen, the device has a large numeric keypad.Though the phone has these “senior” features, it still has the mobile utilities we all demand, including a built-in speakerphone, a tip calculator, and T9 predictive text capability for text messaging.

Old Folk Like the Verizon Wireless Coupe

Changing behavior via awareness of energy consumption

animationnew.gifThere is an episode of the television show Seinfeld (“The Dealership“) where Kramer is test driving a car. During the test drive, Kramer notices the fuel gauge is empty and he wants to know how far he can drive before he really runs out of gas.

While I haven’t gone that far I like to see how fuel efficiently I can possibly drive. My car has a dynamic display of instant fuel economy in miles per gallon (my record is 37.5 MPG in a non-hybrid sedan).

Why do I do this? I don’t know–perhaps an innate competitiveness. But I know others who do this as well. Why not capitalize on this change in behavior by including more energy consumption displays in more products and even in the home. The image on the left is a new home energy monitor which tracks electricity, gas, and water usage.

localcooling.jpgHere is a new application that displays energy usage on your PC (found via Download Squad).

While research is mixed on whether these devices actually lead to reduced energy consumption, they sure are fun to look at.

Educational (low-priced) laptops and cross-cultural Human Factors

In the past year, there has been an explosion of interest in the very low end of portable computing. This started with the introduction of the One Laptop Per Child project (OLPC). Quickly followed by the Asus EEE pc, Intel Classmate PC, and Everex Cloudbook. These bare bones and ultra portable laptop computers are ostensibly targeting users who would like a computer but can’t afford one. But one topic I have yet to hear about is an analysis of the usability or human factors aspects of these machines.Only the education-focused OLPC (and maybe the Classmate PC) is explicitly targeting an international, student-aged audience. Incidentally, only the OLPC has a somewhat novel interface (dubbed Sugar). The interface is dominated by pictographs with little use of text:

olpc2.jpg
OLPC screen shot

Given the extremely wide audience for these types of computers, I wonder how much work has gone into testing the usability of Sugar, or the other operating systems in these machines. In addition, given the extremely varied audience (in age, educational level, technological skill level, socio-economic status, just to name a few), does this one-size-fits-all strategy work? There has been research illustrating that even within a culture, pictograms are not universally understood.

My experience with open-source software (which all of these machines can run) has been that ease of use has never been a priority. Here is a quick visual comparison of the current machines.

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