An introduction to data and information
An introduction to data and information

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An introduction to data and information

6.1.3 Ensuring safety

Ensuring that a user can't choose a wash temperature that's too hot for the ‘hand wash’ programme is an example of ensuring safety. In other words, the washing machine microcomputer is trying to prevent the user making choices that are not sensible. Of course, I could put a load of delicate washing in and choose the ‘cotton’ programme which has a temperature of 90°C. The computer program controlling the machine has no way of knowing that I've put silks or woollens in and not cottons. The worst that would happen, however, is that I would ruin some expensive clothing due to my own negligence.

What about the safety of the user? A washing machine could be dangerous if anyone could put their hand into the drum when it was moving, or when the water was very hot (anything over 40°C can scald), or when the water level is high enough to spill out of the door. The programme on my machine does allow the user to open the door to insert additional items during the cycle, but only when safety conditions are met (drum not moving, water not too hot, water not too high). It is incumbent on the designer of any such system to ensure that basic safety requirements are met. While it may not result in serious harm if, for example, one can open the door when water is above the level of the bottom of the door, customer satisfaction would surely plummet were this to happen.

Some computer-controlled applications (e.g. controlling a flying aircraft) have to go further towards ensuring that an operator doesn't jeopardise situations due to negligence. These are not discussed in this course, but you should be aware that they exist. They are called safety-critical systems, which means that serious harm or loss of life could occur if these systems break down, or do not function properly.

Exercise 15

It is common in modern cars to have central locking. This usually involves pressing a button on a key fob and sending a signal to the car from a short distance which locks or unlocks all doors simultaneously. A button on the control panel may work in a similar way to lock and unlock all the doors from inside.

  1. Can you identify any safety situations that would affect the lock-control program in the car's microcomputer?

  2. What kind of information might a driver need about the door locks?

Discussion

  1. It might be dangerous to allow someone to unlock the doors while the car is in motion. For example, a child might press the button on the control panel, unlocking the doors, then accidentally open the door and fall out. With very small children, it might be dangerous for the child to be able to unlock any door (even when the car is stationary) without the driver knowing. Thus one safety consideration might be to ensure that it is not possible to override child-proof locks accidentally or through carelessness.

  2. The driver might simply need a light to tell him or her whether the locks were engaged or not.

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