Toddler Trampling Robots, Killer Cars: What to Do When Technology Fails Us

I’m a huge fan of tech, especially cutting-edge tech that holds the promise of saving lives, keeping us safer and helping us to care for our loved ones. Which is one of many reasons why I was incredibly saddened to hear about two recent incidents in which cutting-edge tech failed, allegedly causing the injury of a child in one case and, in another case, contributing to the death of a motorist.

mall robot toddler
“A mother and father watched in horror as a security robot at a mall in California knocked their 16-month-old to the ground and ran over one of his feet.”

On May 7, an Ohio man was killed in a car crash in which his Tesla Model S, operating in “autopilot mode,” ran into and underneath a tractor trailer. (Source: The Verge, “Tesla driver killed in crash with Autopilot active, NHTSA investigating,” by Jordan Golson, June 30, 2016). This was the first known fatality in a Tesla where Autopilot was active. (Id). It also appears to have been, “the first known death caused by a self-driving car… Against a bright spring sky, the car’s sensors system failed to distinguish a large white 18-wheel truck and trailer crossing the highway…” (Source: The Guardian, “Tesla driver dies in first fatal crash while using autopilot mode,” by Danny Yadron and Dan Tynan, June 30, 2016). The NHTSA notified Tesla it is investigating.

And earlier this month, a 300-lb robot security ‘guard’ on patrol at a mall in California allegedly “ran over” a toddler. The 16-month old boy’s mother said the robot “ran directly into her son — striking him in the head and knocking him to the ground. The robot continued forward, running over the boy’s right foot.” (Source: CNNMoney, “300-pound mall robot runs over toddler,” by Matt McFarland, July 14, 2016). Thankfully, the child was not seriously hurt. “X-rays taken after the incident were negative. The toddler has a scrape on the back of one of his knees.” (Id.).

no new tech
Source: INKCINCT — June 4, 2007

The harsh reality is that technology (especially leading edge tech) will never be “perfect.” Technological advances often require many iterations before realizing their full potential and certainly before  meeting consumer expectations and attaining mainstream acceptance. Even then, no technology is perfect. In ten years, self-driving cars will still be involved in accidents.

The question is not, however, one of “perfection,” but of advancement. Are we better off with significantly fewer accidents on the road (and thousands of lives saved), or are we so outraged when technology fails us that we reject advancement and regulate progress away? Do we value a drop in crime that results from automated robots patrolling a mall, or are we so incensed at the injury of a child (and rightly so) that we take all the robots “offline?”

I respectfully suggest that the answer is, “both.” (taking my cue from my three and half year old son who tells me it’s not “or” daddy, it’s “and,” when I ask him to make a choice he doesn’t like, either). Consumers and companies alike must reject the false choice of wholeheartedly embracing tech or rejecting it outright. We should be angered when tech fails us, and we should value and support the advances that the same tech has produced and enjoy the improved safety it provides. (See this July 21 report of a Tesla Model S’ Automatic Emergency Braking system reportedly saving the life of a pedestrian in Washington, D.C.). There will never be a time when technology is 100% fool proof. But if we can be deliberate and thoughtful about our approach to tech, if we can embrace the advances and manage the setbacks as they inevitably occur, we may then be able to improve our world, improve our lives and improve our communities through technological advancement without sacrificing who we are or what we value. Companies and organizations that understand, acknowledge and evangelize that truth will inevitably come out on top.

Nationwide IoT is Here! (Disclaimer: Not available in the U.S.)

The race to develop, implement and roll out a nationwide Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices network is over, and two countries are laying claim to the “we were first” trophy.

Earlier this week, both South Korea and the Netherlands announced that they had switched on their own respective national IoT networks, which in the case of the Netherlands “reportedly covers the entire country and will be used to connect millions of devices.” (Source: Gizmag, “Netherlands rolls out world-first nationwide Internet of Things network,” by Michael Irving, July 1, 2016). South Korea did the same, launching “its first commercial, low-cost Internet of Things (IoT) network [that will]  allow smart devices to talk to each other via the network.” (Source: BBC News, “South Korea launches first Internet of Things network,” July 5, 2016).

Korea IoT pic
“South Korea has launched its first commercial, low-cost Internet of Things (IoT) network aimed at making the country even more connected.”

According to reports, the South Korea IoT nationwide network will:

  • allow smart devices to “talk to each other via the network [using] technology that will allow it to reach 99% of the country’s population.”
  • provide services viewed as a way to “ease the cost burden of startups and small and medium enterprises.”
  • on the consumer side, “help appliances like fridges or printers tell its owners when it needs to be refilled, help customers locate lost smartphones and even monitor pets.” (Source: Id.)

The South Korean IoT network provider (SK Telecom) is investing “up to 100 billion won by the end of next year to further develop the infrastructure…” (Source: Id.)

In the Netherlands, Dutch telecommunications company KPN technicians “fitted hundreds of existing mobile transmission towers with LoRa (Long Range) gateways and antennas, to create a new public network dedicated to IoT devices. Sections first went online in Rotterdam and The Hague in November 2015, before work ramped up earlier this year in response to customer interest.” (Source: Gizmag).

KPN reportedly has contracts for 1.5 million devices to utilize the network, already. Id. “Baggage handling at Schiphol Airport, depth sounders in the port of Rotterdam and rail switches at Utrecht Central Station are all currently being handled by smart connected devices, with plenty more expected to join the party as KPN continues to optimize and add functionality to the system.” Id.

dutch IoT
“…technicians fitted hundreds of existing mobile transmission towers with [ ] gateways and antennas, to create a new public network dedicated to IoT devices.”
The United States is a much larger country, of course, than both South Korean and the Netherlands, but even so there does not appear to be any significant movement here in the U.S. to develop and launch a similar IoT network. The most ‘movement’ that can be seen – if you can call it that – is related to legislation, not infrastructure. In April, a Senate committee voted to approve the DIGIT Act, which would “require the Federal Communications Commission to report on the spectrum required to support a network of billions of devices. It would also convene working groups [ ] to advise Congress on Internet of Things-related policy.”  (Source: NextGov, “Senate Committee Approves Bill to Create National Internet of Things Strategy, By Mohana Ravindranath, April 27, 2016). Roughly a year earlier, the Senate passed an Internet of Things resolution calling for a “national strategy on the topic.” Id.

So, while we in the U.S. take committee votes and issue calls for strategies and reports, countries elsewhere (including Mexico, now, which is working towards a 2017 nationwide IoT rollout) are forging ahead, launching 21st century infrastructure initiatives designed to empower industry, facilitate commerce and drive economic development and growth. Surely we’ll see a U.S. IoT nationwide network effort at some point; the question is, however, when? And until then, how many more countries will launch their own IoT networks and realize the benefits of connected device systems before we do?