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Week of 20 September 2021: Human/Machine Interface today

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If you have a late model automobile, you are seeing human/machine interface "improvements" today. The first time I drove one of these cars was in the spring of 2019, when I rented one in Oslo, Norway. It took a bit of getting used to, but I was quickly hooked. Now, when I select a rental car, I look for these features. In the summer of 2019, I bought a new Honda HR-V which was equipped with a couple of cameras, front radar for braking and Lane Keeping Assist which shakes the steering wheel when you veer from your lane.

Of course, for a couple of decades before this, we had had backup collision detectors built into the back bumpers of our cars (some models had them on the front, too, to assist with parallel parking).

While very helpful, I have already seen some of the problems these devices engender. For instance, about ten years ago, I had a rental car and was staying in Ft. Polk, Louisiana. In the morning, I went to back the car out to go to an appointment and promptly backed into the car across the aisle. Unconsciously, I was dependent on backup detectors, which this car didn't have. Fortunately, I was going very slow and the gentleman I hit was gracious and understanding.

With the new cars today, I have discovered other problems. Now, I catch myself thinking that if I put the car in reverse and the backup camera comes on, that is all I have to do--my path is automatically cleared of obstructions, including pedestrians. Similarly, my car has a camera under the mirror on the right-hand side, looking backwards. I catch myself thinking that because that camera is there, I don't need to look--the path is automatically cleared for me.

These problems I have described are human operator error. An acquaintance which has an automobile with forward facing radar and automatic braking tells me that his vehicle is incapable of detecting the tractor trailers with the tailgates that are highly reflective. If he is dependent on the car to slow down when it approaches slower vehicles to the front, it won't do it in those cases--it can't "see" the truck.

Where human/machine interface is going in our paper mills is hard to guess, it seems to be just at the cusp of arriving as we implement Industry 4.0. On one hand, it will make us better papermakers, but on the other, like my automobile experiences, we will likely have many of the unconscious dependencies as I described above.

This will be a new field of operation management learning. Again, these devices will no doubt make our mills run more efficiently, but at the same time introduce new kinds of operational issues and safety issues, ones we have not seen before.

Embrace these technologies we must, at the same time proceed with caution deeply examining the potential pitfalls, identified and unidentified.

For safety this week, the new human/machine interfaces may further prevent us from being in physical danger, but they are not without fault as I have described above.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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