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An interaction observation

An interaction observation regarding an automatic sliding door in Germany’s high speed train ICE.

Author: Christophe Stoll
Date: 20. April 2009

ICE door opening illustration

Yesterday morning I was taking the ICE train back home. Since it was pretty packed, I decided to sit down in the train bistro and read a book. Which is quite a challence, since there’s a lot of people passing by all the time. But there’s something even more distractive than the people themselves: the automatic sliding door, or the door that’s supposed to slide open automatically.

Apparently, the proximity sensor only works for people taller than around 1,80 m (or 5,9 ft, if you’re in the US). For everybody else, the glass door just remains closed – leading to all kinds of reactions: people bitching and cursing, pushing all kinds of things they think could be a button, jumping, waving their arms, asking the bistro service person for help etc.

Of course, I was sitting right next to the scene, so I could have been a helping hand. But my book was too interesting, and I’m talking about a 4,5 hour train ride and approximately 75 people in need for assistance. These are bad excuses, but also the main reason I did not interfere was that older guy sitting vis-à-vis and the way he brilliantly managed the situation. Over and over again, so happy he could help (he was bored).

Apart from providing every irritated person in need for help with the same joke (pointing his empty cup of coffee as if he’d ask for money), he asked them to press the red button above the door. The interesting thing is that nobody really pressed that button, far too high to reach for the majority, but the door opened nevertheless. His idea probably was: if people are moving their hand towards the red button, their arm crosses the radius of the sensor and the door opens.

Maybe he actually thought they should press the button and was irritated himself. But anyway, how much more abstract and complicated would it be to say “move your waving hand towards that black area up there which has a proximity sensor built in to detect if somebody’s close to the door”. Explaining to trigger a motion sensor that doesn’t intuitively work as it should is probably more abstract than asking to press a red button.

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Oh, there is ONE comment, baby!

  1. Everday situation, good sense of observation, turned into a fun story. Very good, thanks for sharing!

    Tilman on 22. April 2009

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