By Jim Hagarty
What I find the most intriguing about modern high technology is not the amazing innovations our best brains are able to devise, but the uses to which these marvels of scientific research are eventually put.
Take the motion sensor, for example. This is really a breathtaking creature, which, as far as I know, exists only of a little eye, capable of detecting when things are moving and when they have stopped and then passing that information along to whatever other utility might need it, such as sliding door or a light.
My cap is off today to the people who invented motion sensitivity. What a marvellous contribution this breakthrough has made to the quality of all our lives. We don’t have to open doors to public places any more, or turn lights off and on.
In effect, what scientists have done with the motion sensor is begun the arduous task of creating artificial life, starting with the eye.
Now it is up to the rest of us to decide how we’ll make use of this little genius in our day-to-day lives. And in this area, clearly, we’re just getting started.
No doubt the motion-sensitivity inventors had some grand ideas in mind when they were working late into the night in their labs and eventually experiencing the joy of seeing their experiments begin to bear fruit. Maybe they thought the ability to artificially sense motion might help to fight crime or to prevent accidents and natural disasters or to save the environment.
I wonder what they would have thought if they’d only known that the ones who would make the best use of the product of their fertile minds would be the designers of the modern public washroom.
I discovered this truth a few years ago when I entered, all agog, the space-age-like men’s washroom at the remarkable new “food” store in my hometown. Of course, the taps in the sinks shoot out a little sprig of water when they sense your hands rubbing each other below them. And the dryer on the wall blows out some heat when it detects your approach. I’m used to these motion-sensor-triggered things.
But approaching that big white fixture on the wall that most men can’t wait to get close to after their morning coffee, I was surprised to discover that motion sensitivity had come now to even such a classic convenience as this. Completing the task at hand, I saw what I thought was a little round, wine-coloured button on the front of the porcelain potty. I pushed it, thinking it might activate the traditional cleansing cycle but it did nothing. Then I saw a sign above it informing me that this system started itself automatically. So, I rearranged myself and walked away. Within seconds of my doing that, I heard a rush of water as it vigourously removed all traces of my recent presence and I instantly knew, how the wall fixture knew, that I was done.
That little red button was not a button at all, but an eye. An eye that spends its entire day fixed on one thing and trained to trigger a torrent of water whenever that thing moves out of its range.
I have to admit, it’s a little unnerving to think that I can expect an eye – mechanical though it may be – will now be watching all my activities and other movements when I get up the courage to visit the modern public washroom. A bashful farm boy doesn’t easily get used to the idea of subjecting himself to such scrutiny.
And yet, who am I to quibble with science? I just wonder how it is that among the most ardent users of the motion sensor are people who worry about the flushing habits of the male half of the world’s population.
And I wonder if, for all its apparent proficiency, this device is really doing its job as well as it appears to be.
After my experience in the washroom, I returned somewhat stunned to my café table to tell a friend about it. He immediately retraced my steps to experience the marvel of modern science for himself, only to return, dejectedly, to tell me it hadn’t worked for him. Perhaps, I offered helpfully, the motion sensor is still more primitive than it looks and is not able to detect the movements of objects of insignificant size. Or something to that effect.
You know, in light of those remarks, it occurs to me that one useful application of the motion sensor might be to harness it somehow to detect when a person is about to say something he shouldn’t and to prevent his mouth from opening to say it.
And while I may not be any kind of technological breakthrough, I’m pretty good at detecting a bit of motion too. I sensed right away, for example, when my friend suddenly left our table and bolted for the door. Which sensed his approach, of course, and opened automatically.
I honestly wonder what the next few uses for motion sensitivity will be. Will my new TV be able to notice, late at night, when my eyes have snapped shut and my head has fallen to my chest and automatically shut itself off? Will car windows of the future automatically wind themselves up when they sense the motion of falling rain? Will my garbage cans automatically roll themselves to the street when they sense the approach of the waste-removal truck?
It is not just humans who are adapting to motion sensoring. I knew of a couple who would let their cat out at night. When it wanted back in, it would leap four feet in the air to trigger the motion-sensor light, alerting its owners to its wish to be let back in.
When even cats see the benefits in a thing, we are probably on the right track.