Evan Schuman: Bluetooth bras and bumping bozos

Engineers and developers, left unchecked, have a tendency to create products and services just because they have figured out how to do something cool, regardless of whether it's a product or service that anyone would ever want. Examples of engineers gone wild crop up from time to time, but I think we have now found their mascot, a slick product that would repulse even the most sheepish focus group. For your consideration: the Bluetooth bra.

This bizarre product, first reported on by Wearables Insider (a good site to track if you need to keep on top of wearables), cannot be unhooked until the bra's sensors conclude that its owner has found true love. Well, true love as defined by engineers, which in itself is a worrisome concept.

In a video made by Ravijour, creator of the True Love Tester bra, an anonymous medical expert describes the process. "When excited, the adrenal medulla secretes catecholamine, which affects the autonomic nerve and stimulates the heart rate. A built-in sensor reads the woman's heart rate signal" and analyzes changes. A chart then shows the different heart rate patterns associated with things other than true love, including jogging, flirting, receiving a surprise gift, shopping, eating spicy food and watching a horror movie. Part of me wants to ask what happens if someone is eating spicy food while watching a horror movie and simultaneously flirting.

By the way, that video is truly a must-see. It appears to have been conceived and created when every one of the company's marketing and IT supervisors was away on holiday and the interns were in charge.

The white-coat-wearing person in the video who offered that description is identified only as a "doctor/former med school associate professor." I wonder whether this endorsement played any role in the "former" part of his academic title?

The voiceover in the video stresses to listeners that "this innovative bra cannot be unhooked without true love." Great. They've created a New Age version of a chastity belt. Hopefully, there is some sort of override command, on the remote chance that a woman might want to take a shower during a moment when she isn't in the throes of true love.

As watchers of that video will see, when the bra's circuitry decides that true love has been discovered, the bra doesn't merely open. In the well-chosen words of tech site TweakTown: "The app does not simply release a locking mechanism on the bra. It apparently flings the cups open with much gusto."

I think we can all agree that it would be a problem if the True Love Tester bra were to fling open randomly when no true love exists or lock tight when it does. But what makes this product technology-overreach poetry is that it's an almost certain disaster even if it works perfectly.

Let's say that the wearer finds true love, and it's in the frozen-food aisle. Or at a trade show, or in a job interview. Bra cups that fling open with much gusto are not considered a sign of professionalism. Or say that you're a woman who would let a guy get to second base, as we used to say, even in the absence of true love. If your bra refuses to cooperate with anyone other than Mr. Right, it's not disastrous, but it is annoying. And exhibiting to a suitor the inability to master one's own undergarments is likely not a first-date highlight.

I also have to wonder how many women are interested in adopting a Bluetooth-enabled mating display to be deployed the moment true love is detected. It seems more likely that she is going to want to carefully consider the time and place to reveal her feelings. I just don't think many women would defer to the judgment of their clothing on something like that. There can be complicating considerations that your bra just isn't going to be cognizant of. I mean, what if you were at a family Thanksgiving gathering when you felt true love stir upon being introduced to your sister's fiance? One microchip decision later and the dinner conversation takes a turn for the awkward.

It doesn't take many of these not-at-all improbable scenarios to begin to wonder, "Who thought this up?" But the infinitely better question is, "Who approved it?" That's the problem with engineer/IT overreach. These people tend to be very intelligent and -- for the most part -- highly creative and imaginative. You want them to throw out as many ideas as possible, but with management there to pick and choose the ones that make business sense.

I think this might be a case of having "bumping bozos" on the org chart. Years ago, a tech executive developed the bumping-bozos theory to explain why so many red-hot Silicon Valley startups tend to implode after hitting a certain employee count. His idea was that, no matter how hard you try, eventually you're going to have bozos (idiots, if you will) on the payroll. And that's OK. Bozos can be productive employees, as long as they're surrounded on the org chart by good people. You can have a bozo head of engineering, as long as the engineers below know which instructions to ignore and which to obey and as long as that bozo engineering head reports to a smart engineering VP.

The problem is that as red-hot tech startups grow -- and grow furiously fast -- the founders inevitably have to take their eyes off of routine hires and delegate that to others. And if no one is watching, you will inadvertently have a bozo reporting to a bozo: bumping bozos. Then you have a bozo coming up with wacky ideas, which are approved by the boss bozo. And lo and behold, this once red-hot company is rolling out things like Bluetooth bras.

Then again, maybe the True Love Tester bra is a good thing. Not for its maker, Ravijour, perhaps. But I'd suggest that every Silicon Valley CEO put a Bluetooth bra poster on the wall, as a constant reminder of what happens when bumping bozos let engineering ideas go unchecked.

Evan Schuman has covered IT issues for a lot longer than he'll ever admit. The founding editor of retail technology site StorefrontBacktalk, he's been a columnist for CBSNews.com, RetailWeek and eWeek. Evan can be reached at eschuman@thecontentfirm.com and he can be followed at twitter.com/eschuman. Look for his column every Tuesday.

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