December 31, 2009

Lifesaving Technology is User-centric

There is no better technology than one that saves lives. That is its very essence.

Lifesaving technologies take many forms, from medical imaging to hurricane prediction, from biotechnology to food safety technology, from lifecycle energy management to emergency alerting and countless others.

I read with great interest in the Wall Street Journal (31 Dec. 2009) about another new life saving technology in the area of transportation safety. It is a simple iPhone app created for $8,000 called R-U-Buzzed? This free application download helps people determine whether it is unsafe for them to drive because they are drunk.

Individuals simply enter information such as “weight, gender, hours drinking, and a tally of beer, wine, and liquor consumed.” The application then spews our their blood-alcohol content and a color-coded safety message, as follows:

· Gray—“No hangover expected.”

· Yellow—“You’re buzzed.”

· Red—“Don’t even think about it...designate a sober driver.”

In some cities (just in the state of Colorado for now), there is even a GPS feature that helps users call a local cab to get them home safely.

While the use of the application isn’t foolproof, and some caution that users shouldn’t depend on it alone for judging their intoxication level, using social computing to appeal to young people who are drinking is a significant potential lifesaver because so many young adults are involved in fatal crashes. In fact, federal statistics show that more than two out of three (65%) of drunk drivers who died in a fatal crash last year were between the ages of 21-34. Another 17% were under 21.

One user of the application raved that it “felt very solid and mathematical and trustworthy, and nonjudgmental.” Hence, the application may be more acceptable to users than hearing from their friends that perhaps they shouldn’t drive.

Applications such as this one are truly user-centric, and because of this I believe they hold even more potential for saving people’s lives than technologies that are difficult to understand and use. As technology leaders and architects, we need to ensure that everything we create is friendly to the user, remembering that we are solving problems for people—not machines—and that often, lives are very much at stake.

As we celebrate the arrival of 2010 with family and friends tonight, let’s make a special toast for the people whose technology needs we’ve supported in 2009, and look forward to many more years of solving business problems and enhancing and saving even more lives.


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