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The Robotic Jockey

In the March 1945 issue of “Radio-Craft”, a bold vision was laid out for the future of horse racing: human jockeys should be replaced by motorized, radio-controlled “Robotic Jockeys”.

Robot Jockey Image


Taken from the same article, the author describes how these new jockeys would work:

“The “jockey” would consist of a modern radio receiver, with outputs fitted both to a speaker and to relays which would set into action motors which control the arms to which the reins are attached, or operate the crop. Additional motors can be provided—or attachments made to those used—which would permit changing the posture of the “jockey,” causing it to lean further forward or rise upright, to sway to the left or the right, as may be required during the race. It is well-known that a jockey uses his body as well as his voice and the reins in guiding his horse.”

More recently, Emirati camel racers have revived the idea in an attempt to end the practice of hiring children, some as young as 15, to pilot their camels. Clearly, there is something appealing about this robot jockey idea! But as intriguing as a robotic jockey may be, can a robot really drive a horse as effectively as a human operator? Maybe today this would be possible, but certainly not 69 years ago!

Stranger still is the idea that a steel chassis produced in 1945 would be any lighter than your average jockey, and considering the size of transformers at this time, there is no way a horse would be able to walk, much less run with all that junk strapped to its back. And even if it were lighter than a jockey, how would a horse respond to orders crackling out of a loudspeaker and the sensation of being whipped with a motorized arm? Without knowing for sure, I think it’s safe to assume that the horse would not be pleased.

As a Product Manager at Seilevel, I have the opportunity to work in a wide range of industries, helping clients to make hard decisions about what system capabilities to build, and sometimes more importantly, what not to build. So, said another way, I help clients avoid building robotic jockeys.

If a feature does not directly tie back to a clear, measurable business objective that either increases revenue or sales, lowers costs, or ensures compliance with applicable laws, you are designing a system that runs the risk of becoming a robot jockey. Similarly, if a solution cannot deliver sufficient improvements to a manual process that works well today, why automate for automations sake?

While no one sets out to build a robotic jockey, sometimes it can happen on its own. To insure that your organization doesn’t fall into this trap, consider using the Business Objectives Model on your next project. In the process of building this model, you and your team will have a chance to stand back and think critically about exactly what problems you are trying to solve, and what specific goals you need your solution to achieve.

To do this properly, it’s essential that both your business objectives, and your business problems relate closely to money (either through savings, growth, or compliance). Once the outline of the case is made, add metrics into the problem and objective statements (i.e. “increase revenue from $4M to $5M annually”, or “reduce spending from $1M to $500K by the start of FY15.” These metrics will form the basis for how your project is evaluated, and give a crystal clear indication of the value your team has delivered.

Had any close calls with your own “Robotic Jockeys”? Tell us about

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