Safety Critical Technology Design

Continuing on the topic of safety, we look at “Tangible Multimodal Interfaces for Safety Critical Applications” by P. Cohen and D. Mcghee on the topic of Safety-Critical applications [CoM04]. These researchers look at some of the challenges facing integration of multimodal systems in safety critical industries such as military and hospital use in the year 2004. As we digitize much information to make industries far more efficient, safety critical industries have relied on paper. If we take an objective look at paper itself, it is not only cheap and often available, it is lightweight, can be used for collaboration, and can be found in a variety of sizes. Most importantly, paper seldom fails, it is not affected by a network crash, damage to a device, power outage or battery failure.

When working in what often can be considered life-threatening situations, it is crucial to have a fail-safe system in place. For these reasons, multimodal systems had seen much resistance from professionals. P. Cohen and D. McGhee propose that rather then ask a user to change how they work, designers instead design systems around users’ current methods of work. It is also noted that the typical keyboard and mouse input does not translate well to mobile use, or in collaborative environments. The option that is looked at in this article are tangible multimodal systems (TMS), these are systems that allow users to use enhanced versions of tools and objects that they already use in their workplace. A system that goes by the name of Rasa is reviewed, it allows military personnel to continue to use paper maps in combination with post-it notes. A map is placed on a large digitizer that captures any input officers put into the system as well as symbols placed with post-it notes. This information can then be broadcasted where need be. Information from other collaborators’ maps are projected over the existing map, in order to integrate both data. The advantage of using a paper map is that if for some reason the device itself fails, or the network fails, the paper map stays and can be continued to be used by officers. When the system comes back online, it can then broadcast the updated information. Looking at another device that was looked at was the Anoto pen. It is an ink pen that is used like any pen would be, but it comes with the addition of a camera and Bluetooth radio allowing a user to digitize their pen strokes. This allows, for example, physicians to write critical information onto a paper form and also have a digital copy that can be readily accessed anytime, anywhere. As we see, there are different methods for exploring the future of multimodal technologies and how we expect them to integrate into different industries. As the authors found, users are looking for technology that not only enhances their existing work methods, but can also be easily integrated in these work methods. We find that these are important aspects to take into account, as safety critical industries tend to resist the introduction of new systems until they have been proven to be reliable. We can say that multimodal technologies can be of great benefit to these industries if the right approach is taken when integrating the technology to the very specific needs involved.

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