Bugs in map programs still can be dangerous

A few years back, a navigation program on a hand held device had a bug.  I waited until things appeared to be fixed before I blogged about it, and I will not mention names nor devices here, but my wife and I saw problems happening several times over a year or more.

First, here is some background.  Our house sits in the mountains of Colorado, is well off the main highway on a 4-wheel drive road that in the winter can have snow drifts of 1-to-3 meters and it has drop offs down a cliff where a car would roll several hundred meters.  About 4 km from our house is a hot springs resort that is very popular with tourists but the road to the hot springs is in town and is definitely not our road.  The road to the hot springs has different turns (both turn to the right off the main highway) but the distance between the turn offs are about 4 km.  The road to the hot springs is very safe and well maintained—even partially paved; our road is dirt and often it looks as though no one lives on it since it is not as well maintained as city streets.  We DO NOT advise people to come up our road unless they have a 4-wheel drive vehicle (with very good snow tires in the winter) and they are comfortable driving “off road.”

For about a year, we would find people coming up our road, which essentially dead ends at our house in winter, and they would be looking for the hot springs.  After the first time or two, we asked how they got to our house.  The tourists said the navigation program told them to turn on our road.  This can be very dangerous. We have seen people in 4-wheel drive vehicles become stuck on our road during snow storms and had to spend the night in subzero temperatures inside their vehicles.

One time, several Japanese tourists drove up our road following the directions from the navigation program and even came into our house looking for the hot springs!  This greatly upset our 2 large guard dogs who might have attacked the tourists—as well as my wife who owns a shotgun.  All very dangerous.

So a simple embedded navigation device and the supporting map data caused more than just a bug.  It could have cost people their lives.  (What if my wife had shot the Japanese tourists as intruders?)  We believe that the problem has been fixed, but as we move into IoT, big IoT data, and device dependency, testers (and developers) need to keep in mind:  IoT BUGS can KILL.

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