The media loves to talk about the ‘Millennial’ generation – those born between years 1980 to the early 2000s. It’s always fun to talk about why any given generation is the best or the worst, or how they’ve had it the easiest in life, or faced more challenges than their predecessors.
Hello, it’s nice to meet you. I’m one of these Millennials. I grew up with a personal computer in my house before I was ten. I’ve always has a video game console to interact with, and I’ve watched computers and technology grow increasingly more connected. I’ve built networks of friends all over the world, and kept in touch with them for over a decade and a half thanks to interaction with remote machines via internet connectivity.
You could say that this exposure and reliance on connectivity has been both beneficial and detrimental, but I do know one thing: it has shaped the way I interact, and expect to interact with machines. While none of my experiences are unique to my generation, I have learned to expect machines to react to my input in predictable ways. As OEMs and machine builders develop machine interfaces, they may find that operators who have grown up surrounded by graphical interfaces and easy connectivity will want to interact with these machines in ways that are familiar to them, whether that is through internet-based mobile applications, or multi-touch input.
Video games have taught me that I can control machine functions through manipulation of graphic information. While those representations were crude at first, I can now navigate three dimensional spaces and use input devices like a trackpad, a mouse, or even my hands to manage many complex tasks at once. Desktop computers, and then laptops, tablets, and smartphones taught me to expect connectivity and access to my information, regardless of physical distance.
I’ve learned to appreciate the need for notifications and analytics. I am surrounded by information, but the ability to filter it to display exactly what I need to see will make or break an application for me. I expect the systems I use to tell me when I have a new, actionable piece of information, and I expect that information to be displayed to me in a graphic format. A single glance at my phone’s screen tells me who has contacted me, how many unread messages I have, and what my appointments are. I’ve come to expect a good interface to give me what I need to know at a glance, and then allow me to choose how I access and interact with that information.
In as few as five or six years, I’ve been trained to touch screens, talk to them, or wave my hands at them. I touch old laptops, frustrated when they don’t respond. That trend will only grow, as those Millenials even younger than I am enter a market in which their first experience with interfaces has been entirely based on graphics, responsive to touch or gestures.
What this means for machine builders and OEMs
I’m hardly suggesting that these expectations are results of my generation. Most consumers have adopted recent touchscreen responsive, graphically based interfaces. Everyone expects predictable responses to their input as they cross from machine to machine. Everyone expects mobile access to their information.
But the difference between my generation and those that came before me, is that I scarcely remember a time when accessing a system meant typing commands into it. Those Millenials born five years after me don’t remember it at all. For the later crop of Millenials, interfaces have always meant graphic representations of the data they wanted to interact with. To us, interfaces mean information we can call up with a gesture, and notifications that tell us how urgent our involvement is at a glance.
For OEMs and Machine builders, this means anticipating those expectations, and finding ways to translate them into the experiences of their own machines for short learning curves and quick adoption, particularly for the generation who has never interacted with a system in any other way.
Making It Happen
InduSoft has made it easy to develop interfaces that offer a seamless transition from consumer devices to industrial automation machine interfaces. Multi-touch support allows users to interact with interfaces the same way we do with smartphones and tablets, and it’s possible to access the machine from anywhere thanks to HTML5 support for the Studio Mobile Access client.
InduSoft Web Studio makes it possible to develop graphic interfaces for machines that are similar to those we use every day, and the ease of creating customizable dashboards means that it’s possible to bring information and analytics to users in formats that can be read and understood at a glance.
All the tools necessary to create a machine interface that is instantly familiar and highly intuitive are packaged together, making InduSoft Web Studio a powerful HMI platform for machine builders facing the task of providing customers a complete hardware/software solution that will be accessible and intuitive right out of the box, especially for those of us who have never experienced anything but graphic based dashboard interfaces with touch-screen navigation and remote mobile access.