Progressively enhanced 'things'

While drooling over details about the new Tesla cars recently (and lamenting their price tag) a thought suddenly struck me; now that the dashboards of these cars are fully digital displays, what happens when some of these things fail?

131125_1074_tesla

Now I am sure that there are some clever systems in place to prevent this from happening, although so far I haven't been able to find anywhere which explains exactly how. But even with the most clever systems in place things will always fail - and the more I thought about it the less I liked the idea of driving along the motorway with my dashboard screen glitching out. I would be more reassured if there was a simple but functional physical needle hidden behind that display just in case of emergency...

apple-watch

Which made me realise that what I was considering was essentially applying the principles of progressive enhancement to 'smart objects' and 'internet-of-things', er, things. If the core functionality of an item like a smart watch, for example, fails then what measures are in place to ensure that functionality can continue? We have service workers in place to deliver content when we lose our internet connection, so why should our £300+ 'smart' watch be entirely redundant when it runs out of battery? Would it be admitting failure to build in a backup lcd display (or equivalent)?

Now while I have had fun leading workshops making arduinos change the colour of the lights in the room, I essentially have no experience of designing smart devices. I'm don't even own a smart watch, so this may already be well taken care of. However in my (admittedly limited) attempt to find examples of this out there, or even other's thoughts on the topic I haven't managed to find anything so far. The closest I got was the wonderful quote from this article:

An escalator can never break – it can only become stairs. You would never see an “Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order” sign, just “Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience. We apologize for the fact that you can still get up there.”

But interestingly, this was still used as an analogy for web development rather than a serious call to arms for physical progressive enhancement. I'll continue to research this, but it certainly seems worthy of more consideration.

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