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Manual vs. Automatic is a design question

Just because Manual vs Automatic proved to be so popular topic, I'll try to take it back on track: how its related to what we do?

Well, lets go abstract.  Lets imagine we have a vehicle with ideal parameters. What set of controls would you introduce?

I would say - the simpler and the fewer the better.  So, a steering weel (very nice concept in my opinion) and something to control the speed: probably a couple of pedals.

Gear box is irrelevant to the driving the ideal car (in my opinion) as it wouldn't need gears at all (jet engine, electrical engine for instance).

So, well, but you say in most conditions, controlling the car is much more than basic control over direction and acceleration. It's about feedback, it's about controlling each wheel.

But is an average human being is capable of controlling all those things, does she/he bother? No.

Everything that can be done by computer without us even noticing, has to be done by computer. I would, actually rather relax on a backsit playing chess with my mate.

Is automatic is potential winner over manual (in a 98% of a market context) like GUI is a sure winner over ChUI?

What set of controls would you place on ideal car?

mista
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Which one?

The one I use to get from A to B idealy has none. After a polite "Good morning James" while getting in, it just takes me in totoal comfort to where I need to be throughout the day.

The one I use to have a day out on the track, gives me the illusion of total control over a difficult to master and dangerously powerfull machine, while secretly correcting all my errors enough, but not completely so I can have the titillating experience of improving my skills without ever really endangering myself or getting frustrated because I just can't seem to get it rigth.

And no, the two should never mix.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

I think you hit on the most common complaint about our profession, we don't understand the business need.  Or perhaps, we think we understand it, but fail to get the business "desire" clearly articulated.

When I read your design question, I thought of travelling.  While many people like to drive, I do not believe that getting there is half the fun.  My "requirements" were the car must be self-sustaining.  It is as available as my current vehicle, but requires no input on my part other than a destination. 

Speed, shifting, adjusting to road conditions, errors (accidents, ball in the street, etc.) are all part of the feedback loop I experience.  However, the goal is to get from "A" to "B" in the shortest time with the least effort/stress on my part.  In essence, I want my own personal driver.  Available at my call, who will handle all the conditions of movement, while I do "other" things. 

Mass transit is a failure in the US for a couple of reasons.  First, most mass transit requires I drive to it.  If I am driving to someplace to go someplace, there needs to be something exceptional to make me do so.  I drive to the airport because a plane will cover distance at 10 times the speed. 

Second is convenience.  I do not take a bus, because I need to get to a bus stop miles away. This means I am in my car and have to park to take it.  I am then on the bus driver's schedule and in most cases take longer to arrive.

So tying this all back to software, the Ideal car is always available, and needs the absolute minimal input to get desire results.  If I am expected to take any action beyond that, I need to see a solid ROI.  If I have to go through three menus,  to save six entry boxes (like taking a plane versus driving), good return.  If I have to go through 12 menus to avoid keying in two fields, like the bus, a bad investment.

MSHack
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

and as we know good design - is a series of trade offs between what we want and what we can. So lets try to keep it real and do not use any technology that is unlikely to appear within 10 years from now. And...errr... would be nice if you back uo your brilliant ideas with ways of solution.

mista
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

http://www.scania.hu/millennium/eng/pdf/researchWE.pdf

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The problem is that cars have signifigant history behind them that makes any sort of "start from scratch" design problems about as useless as a full ground-up rewrite.

The problem is that the people who actively care about what they drive are driving for the fun of it, so they want things that get in the way of a simple, comfortable interface for driving.  They want to think about driving because getting there is half the fun.  They want to control both throttle and engine torque independently because they can select the proper torque more reliably and they can plan ahead.

I think that these folks could get used to a mostly-automatic transmission if there was some sort of signaling mechanism to give the transmission "hints".  My general brainstorm is to use things like if your foot is on or off of the pedal as a hint to the transmission.

Of course, these folks are sometimes wrong.  The clutch is more expensive than the brakes, but most stick drivers are always downshifting, even when they should just use the brakes.  Apparently all that downshifting doesn't make as much sense anymore.

The rest of the folks are really using a car because that's the fastest way of getting there.  They don't care about it as long as it isn't too hard to operate.  Automatic transmission is fine for them. 

The fun one is that, apparently, pure electric cars have insane torque curves.  As in, you can have no gearshift at all and go from 0 to 100 in some impressive amount of time.  Of course, unless somebody strings wires over every interstate and sells cars with a pantograph on top, electric cars aren't going to have the range they need.

Flamebait Sr.
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

What is the software equivalent of a manual transmission? A command line?

:-)

runtime
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

You leave out the points that automatics are often more expensive to purchase, burn more gas, and waste more energy than manuals.

christopher baus (tahoe, nv)
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

perhaps because automatics no longer burn more gas than manual transmissions. true, they are more expensive to build/purchase. true of most any more-complex device.

mb
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Actually in the current market automatics are often *cheaper* to purchase than manuals.

Mike McNertney
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Hmm, not on my Subaru.

christopher baus (tahoe, nv)
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

They are not often cheaper. They are occasionally cheaper, and occasionally "no cost". But that's pretty rare...

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Sorry, but humans like to feel "in control". The computer should be checking the input from the user, not the other way around.

I might tell my car that I want to "go to work now", but what I actually want to do, perhaps even subconsciously, is go to work but take the scenic route and look at the pretty girls, and stop at the doughnut shop on the way. I can do that if I have control, and maybe the computer nags me that I am going the "wrong" way but at least it doesn't try to take me there automagically.´

And "Just Me" - there's no way I'm going to tell James about this because he might tell my dietician, or worse, my wife. Assuming he doesn't just go home and give her one. A doughnut, I mean.


Thursday, October 16, 2003

Well, the last post gives a good point actually.

I believe myself most people would like conventional car to take care of everything itself (and those who want to drive can still go to manual control). But if we imagine fully automated car, it has to coordinate it route somehow.

And if car becomes "too intellegent" coordinating its route might create some "privacy issues", when others may easialy find out "what you did last summer". Besides it probably would be dependent on some sort of external navigational system.

I like the idea of good powerful new automatic (BMW 7 Series, Volvo S80 T6). Those gear boxes know how to adjust themselves to your driving style. For instance they would start from second gear on slippery surfaces or in dry conditions, when you push accelerator slowly. If you make a "kick-start" it instantly goes on first and makes "long-shifts" to get the most out of the engine.

On S80 T6 for instance it follows your driving style and automaticaly makes good guesses when you want to shift gears, working togther with all other intellegent car systems.

New expensive automatics are extreemly good with diesels, which provide low rpm - high torque.

Fuel consumption increases insignificantly, most of those cars know how to switch off part of engine ("power on demand").

Then downshifting against breaking - makes a big difference on icy roads. New automatics together with EBS (? a system which controls how much power goes to each wheel) give you much safer driving in bad weather, than manuals.

And you can always go manual with them, if you want, but I rarely saw people who actually did.

As to the driving style - automatic makes you more tolerant in traffic jams.

mista
Thursday, October 16, 2003

Corrective assistance is not limited to automatics. My manual is a "drive by wire" system, and the computer is perfectly capable of completely ignoring my gas pedal instructions if it feels the car would be in jeopardy as a result.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Thursday, October 16, 2003

Right, but if it goes too far you end up with Airbus airplanes.
Pull up. Computer: No, it might stall. Pilot: Pull up!Computer: no! Trees: boom.

I have a friend who believes the steering wheel & pedals are an awful interface. He just wants a joystick. He also doesn't like to drive, at all.

mb
Thursday, October 16, 2003

Sounds silly, but I've played driving games with both a joystick and wheels and pedals. Let me tell you, joysticks cannot begin to give you the control you need. Unless you have extremely fine control of your muscles, you will consistently over-compensate with a joystick.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Thursday, October 16, 2003

What is the software equivalent of a manual transmission? Interesting question.

Changing gears is something you do beacause the user interface of the car does not hide implementation details well enough. It really adds no value to getting you from A to B.

The software equivalent of a manual transmission is the 'cd' command. Changing working directory really has nothing to do with your tasks you want to do with your computer.

Automatic transmission equivalent would be a recently used files list in File menu, you don't have to play with directories at all.

Tero
Friday, October 17, 2003

"Changing gears is something you do beacause the user interface of the car does not hide implementation details well enough. It really adds no value to getting you from A to B."

That assumes that the sole purpose of driving is to get from point A to point B. When you factor in things like "fun" and "safety", then the issue is not so clear cut.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Friday, October 17, 2003

If we had lived in the world with better more flexible engines, producing torque starting form 1 rpm and going up to 18000 rpm we would have probably ever known that gear box means and definitions for safety and fun would have been different.

Automatic gearbox is the case of "leaking abstraction".

Anyway we start going circles and its boring.

MM... If think joystick as a way of control gives too little feetback and then it has to small range of left-right movements.

Touchpad instead of steering wheel? ;-) just kidding.

UK resident
Friday, October 17, 2003

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