Thursday, October 24, 2013

Farewell, Cyber-Physical Sewing Machine!

I am retiring one of my cyber-physical machines---my sewing machine, to be precise.  You can see the source of the problem in the photo, namely the ribbon cable to the front panel.  The front panel is attached to the body with a very small tongue and a little adhesive.  When it comes loose, it pulls the cable out of its connector.  This little four-bit microcontroller costs $120 to replace; I know because it has happened before.

I have replaced it with an old-fashioned mechanical sewing machine, one built by Toyota, no less.  It has metal gears and no computer.  Toyota, of course, has had its own problems with cyber-physical systems, but I am confident that they know how to make a reliable gearbox.

While we are on the subject of sewing machines, let's take a minute to consider the genius of the sewing machine and its inventor, Elias Howe. The mechanism of the sewing machine performs a fiendishly complicated motion to perform what seems to be impossible---it wraps one thread around another.  Since Mr. Howe worked before the midpoint of the 19th century, he had no computers to control his machine.  He relied on simple rotating machines and cleverness.  150 years later, we still use his work.  As we design complex cyber-physical machines, let's remember that our goal should be to create designs that last.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed, electronic devices, as well as cyber physical systems, should and could be made more reliable and long-lasting.