While driving on a road trip with my wife I noticed that she has a slightly, shall we say “different” driving style than most people. Sometimes it would be a general swerve that came from her lively discussion with a friend in the backseat. And then other times it would be a minor deviation from the ideal road position followed by a sudden over-correction, similar to the response of an over-damped system. It's not the worst driving habit a spouse could have, but it is certainly noticeable.
I began to think about a concept for a device that would act as a feedback system for these 'steering deviations.' Something like 'Lane departure warning system', with the added functionality while in the lane. Instead of sensing position visually, there would be an accelerometer that would provide inertial data to a microcontroller. The microcontroller would then determine what would be a normal, controlled turn and what would be an undesired swerve motion, and how bad of a swerve-error it was. This information would be read-out on an LCD mounted to the dashboard in a manner similar to the way hybrid car readouts display fuel economy to teach drivers how to maximize the technology. Here is a very simple system-level view of what I was planning:
Once I felt like I had a pretty good idea of the approach I would take and how feasible it would be I brought up my brilliant idea with the wife, expecting interest and excitement in the technology and its unique application. However I decided to shelve the project inside of half a second once I read the beautiful face of my intended user. Her verbal response to my idea put the final nail in the coffin:
“I don't swerve that much, do I?”
Any amount of swerve reduction that the device might yield would be far outweighed by my wife having a constant reminder of the things I don't like about her driving. Not exactly the 'Apple' experience one would hope for.
It was a first hand lesson in why projects get canceled for political reasons. Yes, the potential for a cool product with great results got canned. I was excited for the chance to learn about the latest display technology for this type of application. I hated to see the little bit of time and energy spent go unused. But despite all of this, life would be worse for the person calling the shots if the project were to continue.
There are several examples of products being canceled for political or macro-business reasons, here are a few more I can think of:
-The flip camera was bought and quickly shut down despite strong sales momentum.
-The first generation (GM EV-1, Honda EV-Plus) electric car as reported by the movie Who Killed The Electric Car?.
-For good or bad, the currently planned US Nuclear Power projects are on hold. Here is a very pro-nuclear article on the subject.
-With the opposite effect, Solyndra was actually kept afloat in part by political pressure and funding. This is probably more infuriating to most outside observers than a canceled project, however I bet the engineers loved having their non-commercially-viable R&D fully funded for a while.
Few things get me so steamed as experiencing or even hearing about a project getting canceled for non-technical reasons. Most engineers would like for political riff raff to be sorted out before block diagrams begin to take shape, but one must remember to think of the big picture. Reality is not a well-ordered state of living and surprises come at every stage of development. Still, it is easy to get caught up in why the product should go to production when it's your product:
How could anyone with a brainstem not see the raw brilliance of my power-sipping op-amp and stellar ground-tree layout, optimized for noise control? Clearly any such design deserves the production line, and will overcome any marketing, political, or sales hurdles. Anything less would be an affront to humanity! So what if it is just a microphone and preamp module for an entry-level kids' toy...
Thankfully, this little marital interaction gave me some insight beyond my own usual scope by reminding me how ridiculous one might sound when only looking at these decisions from one point of view. I'm not saying that if I'm on a project and it gets canceled I won't be pissed, I'm just saying that it is worth looking at the situation from all points of view. Sometimes it is best to cut losses, walk away with the experience gained, and apply the saved time to a project that will become even better than the one canceled.