Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Automation?
As technology advances, and our ability to control technology advances with it, many corporate offices are turning toward automation to help their daily activities run smooth. We might automate lights to turn on when a room is occupied and off when it is not, saving money and cutting down on energy consumption.
We may automate a presentation system in our boardroom to automatically switch to a presentation mode when a computer is plugged into the system. Automation can be a great thing, but can we have too much of this great thing? Download our partner resource to learn the benefits and potential downfalls of automated systems.
Automation allows for technology to work in tandem with scheduling, preference, and need. You can walk into a meeting room and the room can know what you want it to do without ever having to touch a button. There is currently work being done where a key fob in your pocket causes the lights in a room you just walked into to turn on, and off again when you leave. This not only helps with reducing power consumption, it’s a cool thing to happen. The magic of automation is that a person doesn’t have to think about the technology to utilize it in a meaningful way.
There is the potential, however, for over-automation. As impressive as control without thinking about the technology is to some, it can be equally confusing to others that are less tech-savvy. The idea that plugging in your computer to a system will automatically turn the display on and cause everything to switch is wonderful until that’s not what you want to happen when you plug your computer in.
Think of your car; you might plug in your smartphone so that it can start to charge, but the system automatically starts playing music from the phone. There is no way to override this. Dimming lights are great on sunny days, but what about when the clouds come out. The only way to fix this is to add more sensors and automation into the system, and increase the programming. Also, different people have different preferences, and not all automation can be personalized, especially in a building with many employees. Automation is great, but over-automation can become a pain.
Standardization provides comfort, reliability, and consistency. It’s important that a user goes from room to room and has a similar experience, regardless of the different types of equipment. Standards define a certain set of guidelines that are carried through whether it’s a particular user interface design or the operation of the system. There needs to be predictability in order for there to be comfort. The importance of consistent button placement and a consistent layout is key. There will always be a need or demand to make changes as technology advances, and being able to scale your system and knowing where a button is going to be in the future means not having to start from scratch.
On the other hand, standardization can hinder the creativity of the system. It leaves little room for customization or expression. Art departments may want something specific for their touch panel. One size does not always fit all, and when making an investment it is understandable to want your programming to fit your needs. Some employees may be left-handed, or color blind, and this could cause problems when a standard has been set. If a system isn’t intuitive for a person, that person isn’t going to use the system. They will seek out the remotes and begin to change things on their own. Leaving some room for originality, while not uniform, can help each employee get the most out of your automated system.
Feedback can be costly. It requires additional programming and additional expertise. True feedback can be useful but it has a lot of dependencies and a lot of notches. The complexity of what it takes to make the feedback needs to be foolproof. If you provide a command that says the system either needs to be on or off, it can’t be somewhere in between. It has to always be in one state or another. That is something that can cause problems if the device isn’t providing that information in a timely manner.
If a device changes for any reason the programmer will be made aware of that change and can go into the system and update. However, if unsolicited feedback isn’t available, the programmer needs to poll and parse feedback in order to update the information. Polling requires a lot more processing power, and can account for time lags that force users to wait for a button to light up because the programmer has to wait for a response.
“When we send a command to a device we are looking for it to give a response that is used to provide either status, launch another command, or provide some sort of automation,” says Steve Greenblatt, President of Control Concepts.
Let’s say a projector is marked as on, and when it is in that ‘on’ state a lift in the ceiling should drop to reveal the projector. For whatever reason, the feedback isn’t received and the lift doesn’t activate, leaving the projector to overheat in the ceiling. We depend on true feedback to handle this issue, and without it we need to enter the system and find out what is going wrong. So the complexity of feedback in automation systems can be a real problem.
The benefits of feedback, however, could very likely outweigh the drawbacks. Adjusting volume and having the gauge show up onscreen, viewing the amount of lamp hours left in a projector, seeing the radio receiver or transmitter frequency, and more all require feedback. Being able to speak with different devices, and adjusting them to communicate with one another, is the only way to get a system set up that isn’t comprised of one manufacturer’s products. This communication provides ease of use, allowing end users that may not be technically adept to control an extremely complex system, and feedback is an integral part of this communication.
Finding the Balance
When it comes down to it automation is a convenient and helpful tool. It can save valuable time and even more valuable money if implemented in the proper way. We don’t have the technology to make it perfect, however, and some practices are best left to manual manipulation.
Your best bet is getting a good integrator that can tailor your system to fit your needs. Don’t be afraid to automate, but don’t be afraid to keep it old school either.