Steady Can

The other day I was teaching my 8-year-old daughter how to drive the minivan when I realized I could design a simple game to encourage softer braking by providing more obvious feedback.


I held a half-empty soda can on the palm of my hand. I instructed my daughter to brake so softly that the can wouldn’t tip over and fall off my hand.

She immediately got the hang of it, which is good for the car’s sake.


Exaggerated Feedback: As obvious as abrupt acceleration and braking are to an experienced adult driver, a young child needs a little bit of extra feedback and purpose.

Discrete Thresholds: The difference between abrupt braking and soft braking is rather subjective (as I like to point out to passengers when I am driving)… It falls along a continuum, and the it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly where a soft slowdown ends and a jarring stop begins. A soda can falling off someone’s hand is binary. It either has or has not fallen off. Imposing a discrete threshold on a continuous variable creates obvious feedback… a point at which the brake has been applied too abruptly.

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As we were heading home from the little “driving expedition”, I looked over and discovered I myself had now been coopted into my own game of Steady Can, with Sally as the judge.

What’s she trying to tell me?