The Automation Paradox: Why is the Soap Always Full and Always Empty?

July 3, 2024
July 3, 2024 Greg Olson

The Automation Paradox: Why is the Soap Always Full and Always Empty?

I just returned from a trip that included flights to and from three different airports including the worlds busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Like any hygienic person, I washed my hands after visiting the airport restroom.

Funky Automated Systems

The trouble began when I attempted to use the soap dispenser adjacent to the sink. It failed to trigger. This automated system was supposed to detect my waving hands, but it didn’t. No wonder the soap was full; it doesn’t get used. After a 10-15 second dance, I opted to use another sink. Funny thing is, at another sink, the soap was nearly empty. I understand why. The soap dispenser churned out soap even when I didn’t want it. Initially, I received the expected soap, but then as I moved my hands toward the water faucet to rinse them, the automated soap dispenser kept shooting soap onto my hands. At the rate it was dispensing soap, the soap dispenser was probably filled earlier in the day and was now headed for empty.

Ensuring Reliability in Automated Systems: Lessons from the Soap Dispenser Saga

The saga of the soap dispensers highlights a broader issue with automated systems and reliability. While convenient when they work flawlessly, they can falter unexpectedly, as my experience vividly demonstrated. Beyond just bathrooms, this raises critical questions about system reliability and maintenance. When we rely on automation, it’s essential to ensure these systems 1) solve the problem they are designed to solve and 2) remain responsive and functional over time. In an era of “See something, say something,” imagine we could easily signal issues—with a frown in front of a mirror—prompting quick resolutions. As we embrace automation, let’s also champion reliability and responsiveness to ensure a smoother, more delightful future.

Discover additional musings from the JUG Team: Blog posts and Lightning Letter.

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Greg Olson

Strategic and creative chief marketer working with business leaders to clarify and communicate vision, advance innovative products and services, and build more capable, more profitable enterprises. Agency and client-side experiences in startups, small businesses, nonprofits, and publicly traded Fortune 100 enterprises. Especially adept at creating a clear path forward for products and services that are new to the world. I am passionate about creating a better world.
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