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BOFH: my mate, automate

Droid division

Episode 9 BOFH 2001: Episode 9

"Remote and automatic control and recognition systems like this are invaluable in business situations where certain criteria can be predicted and reacted with," a salesdroid continues, pointing out some heavy duty production hardware in a glossy brochure.

"Interesting," the new Boss fakes, eyes staring glazed at the page.

"Yes," the salesdroid responds. "It allows us to operate machinery with complete safety for the workforce. The recognition system makes the controlling processor aware of persons entering the work area, and pauses operations where necessary to ensure safety."

"What sort of machines are we talking about?" I ask.

"Production machinery, both small and large, automated cleaning equipment, warehouse storage systems..."

"Cleaning equipment?" the Boss asks, rising from his coma once more. "So we could save money on cleaning staff?"

"Most definitely! We have a prototype vacuuming system which sends out cleaning units as needed, day and night, depending on the zone where cleaning is required. They're all controlled by a central computer which receives video and audio feeds from the units and directs their activity away from people, animals and zones marked as 'quiet' spaces."

"So you could tell the computer not to clean near meeting rooms?"

"Precisely! And send it to heavy use areas like entranceways, business frontages, etc, to maintain a consistently clean look."

"That's amazing!" the boss burbles, obviously wanting to be seen as a new broom in more ways that one...

"Yes, a sweeping change!" I blurt, not wanting to miss out on a pun. "Unless, of course ,the units go doolally and run rampant in the building!"

"All units automatically switch into standby if they detect an anomaly in the encoded signal from the controller, if they lose signal from the controller, or if a direction from the controller conflicts with sensor data on safety."

I don't like it. Not one bit. And not just because I have an understanding with the cleaning staff about which confidential company documents should be going into the shredder as labeled, and which should be left in the plain brown envelope marked "Equipment Audit - Keyboards" in the second drawer down from the left in my desk... Redundancies like this hurt everyone!

"That's brilliant!" the boss continues, failing to suppress his drool reflex. "What about the warehouse stuff?"

"Well that's state-of-the-art," the sales rep gushes happily. "We have automated conveyors, storage systems, inventory recognition, scanning and reordering, plus..."

We pause while he looks round carefully to give the impression of secrecy: "...Automated forklifts!"

"Like we see every year in some TV science documentary?" I ask.

Round about now I'm sincerely regretting not getting the PFY come to this meeting. Serves me right for trying to use the time to check the IQ of the new Boss. How was I to know that the PFY's estimate of his age divided by two was to prove strangely accurate?

"More advanced than that!" the salesdroid continues. "They're just dumb machines that navigate along painted lines, stopping for obstructions once they've hit them. Our system uses image recognition to survey the nature of the obstruction and determine it's chances of moving or being removed, work out alternative routes, alter speed and direction... blah blah blah blah..."

"COMPUTER CONTROLLED CAR!" the boss shouts overly loudly, waking me from my happy slumber. "How does it work?"

"The same was as the forklift, but on a much grander scale, and with hugely different weightings for objects, speed, allowable manoeuvres, etc."



"IS IT?!?" he gasps.

"It is!" the salesdroid simpers, dragging a large briefcase out from under the desk, opening it and extending an antenna. "Or course we're not selling it yet, but we use it all the time - and we can equip it to almost any car."

"Could we fit it to MY CAR?!?" the Boss gasps.

"What is it?"

"A Volkswagen Variant."

"Perhaps not every car, but most cars."

"Oh," the boss sighs, disappointed.

"But it is installed in my car, in your parking basement. Look, I'll show you!"

The Boss pulls up his chair while the salesdroid logs into his laptop and starts a control app.

"We're thinking of calling it virtual chauffeur," he blurts, "because it's just as good as the real thing. As you see, the current position is highlighted there, and I just enter either the street address of the place I wish to go, click on the DRIVE button, and away it goes. Where shall we go?"

"Round the block?" the boss suggests

"No sooner said, than >clickety<. Now, just click on the video screen and it shows us a chauffeur-eye view of the windscreen!"


"As you can see, the roller door isn't high enough to allow the car through yet, so the vehicle is stopped. And now we're underway. Pause to check pedestrian, then other traffic, and we're on the road!"

"IS IT SAFE?!?" the boss gasps.

"Safer than houses!" the droid assures him.


"It knows about the roads, pedestrians, bikes, animals, and... THERE YOU GO... road works. So now it's slowing down and waiting for the Green signal. It's also, >clickety< if we look at the map, calculating alternate routes, plus estimates of a quicker path given the known levels of traffic at this time of day."

"That's FANTASTIC!" the boss burbles, and I have to admit, I'm starting to agree with him.

"Not only that, but you can program it to pick you up from an address at a certain time and take you via a completely random route to another specified address. Great for those security conscious people/"


"Sure! Tell you what, we'll get it to pick us up from lunch!"

"Really?!?" the Boss cries, clearly at the threshold between excitement and needing a change of pants.


...An hour or so later...

"So it looks bad," I tell the PFY. "All our informed sources will be down the road and we'll have to forage for restricted access articles the hard way. I'm not happy! Are you listening to me?"

"Yeah, yeah," the PFY cries, totally absorbed in his joystick, if that's not a lewd suggestion. "You know, the graphics on this thing are amazing! It's almost like I'm really driving down Oxford Street."

"Except you wouldn't be driving down Oxford Street," I correct, "not being a passenger service vehicle..."

"Yeah, but... LOOK AT THAT!!!" he cries "A police car in the rearview!!!"

"You're not going to let them pull you over are you?"

"Like Hell! I'm making for the Bush for the bonus points!" he cries, giving the joystick a generous push. "There's only one thing that puzzles me..."

"What's that then?"

"The screaming noises..."

"Oh, that's the best part about Virtual Chauffeur!" I cry. "Virtual passengers! Now remember, points off for hitting anything, till you get to the Shepherd's Bush Police Station with the horn going!"

"Then what?"

"Then watch Virtual Chauffeur's take on Rodney King!" ®

BOFH is copyright © 1995-2001, Simon Travaglia. Don't mess with his rights.

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