I sometimes wonder if it is only me who cannot get robot taps to work. Automated bathroom facilities of various kinds have become more and more common, and as they have I have had more and more problems with that most basic of daily activities: washing my hands. My problems have been legion. Firstly, there’s the kind of tap that has an infrared sensor, and that is supposed to come on when you place your hands in position. More often as not, they will not trigger for me. Similarly, every kind of automatic hand dryer (except, for some reason, a Dyson Airblade) will not trigger for me without a series of arcane gestures that make me look like I am conducting a summoning ritual. But worst of all, the most daunting of bathrooms to encounter, is a fully automated, all-in-one system such as the Automatic Washstation (pictured above).
If you have not encountered this WashBot before, allow me to describe my experience of attempting my ablutions with it. Firstly, you put your hands in and it dispenses soap. You had better hope your hands were in the right place, or the soap plops harmlessly onto the bottom of the cavity and you will then have to wait for the robot to complete the entire washing cycle before you can try again to get soap. (Need I mention that if you aren’t using your soap, there’s not a great deal of point in washing your hands at all?) Then, the water comes on and runs for a set length of time. If you succeeded in getting soap the first time, you had better be efficient about washing it off during Round 2, because the water will stop when it decides, irrespective of your own circumstances. Finally, a burst of warm air to dry your soapy hands. If your hands aren’t where you want them to be at the end, you can always trigger the monstrosity again.
The Automatic Washstation is less a case of a failure of cybervirtue than it is terrible design. The team that put it together made choices about issues such as how long everything should run for that completely fails to take into account the pragmatic aspects of using the device. That it is advertised to potential purchasers as ‘using the latest technology’ is a stark reminder of the difference between recently development technology and good technology. The failure of cybervirtue in the case of the Automatic Washstation is the inevitable risk of complete counter productivity, of discouraging someone who has fought with the WashBot in the past to even bother to wash their hands after using the bathroom. We have in this case a robot designed for hygiene that risks being cyber-unsanitary.
The purported benefits of all automated bathroom fixtures are minimising water usage and so forth. But all such systems fail to be cybervirtuous if they do not permit their humans to be in control their own hand washing.
A Hundred Cyborgs, #12