The Mechanized Squire


Having completed the welding he did not need to do, Tony flies home to a ledge atop Stark tower and lands. As he begins his strut to the interior, a complex, ring-shaped mechanism raises around him and follows along as he walks. From the ring, robotic arms extend to unharness each component of the suit from Tony in turn. After each arm precisely unscrews a component, it whisks it away for storage under the platform. It performs this task so smoothly and efficiently that Tony is able to maintain his walking stride throughout the 24-second walk up the ramp and maintain a conversation with JARVIS. His last steps on the ramp land on two plates that unharness his boots and lower them into the floor as Tony steps into his living room.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

This is exactly how a mechanized squire should work. It is fast, efficient, supports Tony in his task of getting unharnessed quickly and easily, and—perhaps most importantly—how we wants his transitions from superhero to playboy to feel: cool, effortless, and seamless. If there was a party happening inside, I would not be surprised to see a last robotic arm handing him a whiskey.

This is the Jetsons vision of coming home to one’s robotic castle writ beautifully.

There is a strategic question about removing the suit while still outside of the protection of the building itself. If a flying villain popped up over the edge of the building at about 75% of the unharnessing, Tony would be at a significant tactical disadvantage. But JARVIS is probably watching out for any threats to avoid this possibility.

Another improvement would be if it did not need a specific landing spot. If, say…

  • The suit could just open to let him step out like a human-shaped elevator (this happens in a later model of the suit seen in The Avengers 2)
  • The suit was composed of fully autonomous components and each could simply fly off of him to their storage (This kind of happens with Veronica later in The Avengers 2)
  • If it was composed of self-assembling nanoparticles that flowed off of him, or, perhaps, reassembled into a tuxedo (If I understand correctly, this is kind-of how the suit currently works in the comic books.)

These would allow him to enact this same transition anywhere.



So, all of this was to get us back here. If you accept that JARVIS is doing almost all the work, and Tony is an onboard manager, then it excuses almost all of the excesses of the interface.

  1. Distracting 3D, transparent, motion graphics of the tower? Not a problem. Tony is a manager, and wants to know that the project is continuing apace.
  2. Random-width rule line around the video? Meh, it’s more distracting visual interest.
  3. “AUDIO ANAL YSIS” (kerning, people!) waveform that visually marks whether there is audio he could hear anyway? Hey, it looks futuristic.
  4. The fact that the video stays bright and persistent in his vision when he’s a) not looking it and b) piloting a weaponized environmental suit through New York City? Not an issue because JARVIS is handling the flying.
  5. That is has no apparent controls for literally anything (pause/play, end call, volume, brightness)? Not a problem, JARVIS will get it right most of the time, and will correct anything at a word from Tony.
  6. That the suit could have flown itself to the pipe, handled the welding, and pipe-cuffing itself, freeing Tony to continue Tony Starking back in his office? It’s because he’s a megalomaniac and can’t not.

If JARVIS were not handling everything, and this a placebo interface, well, I can think of at least 6 problems.

Tony Stark is being lied to (by his own creation)

Before I surface from the deep dive examination of the Iron Man HUD, there’s one last bit of meandering philosophy and fan theory I’d like to propose, that touches on our future relationship with technology.

The Iron Man is not Tony Stark. The Iron Man is JARVIS. Let me explain.

Tony can’t fire weapons like that


The first piece of evidence is that most of the weapons he uses are unlikely to be fired by him. Take the repulsor rays in his palms. I challenge readers to strap a laser perpendicular to each of their their palms and reliably target moving objects that are actively trying to avoid getting hit, while, say, roller skating an obstacle course. Because that’s what he’s doing as he flies around incapacitating Hydra agents and knocking around Ultrons. The weapons are not designed for Tony to operate them manually with any accuracy. But that’s not true for the artificial intelligence.

Iron Targeting 02 Continue reading

Perimeter Fences

Jurassic_Park_Perimeter_Fences01Each of the dinosaur paddocks in Jurassic Park is surrounded by a large electric fence on a dedicated power circuit that is controlled from the Central Control Room. The fences have regular signage warning of danger…

Jurassic_Park_Perimeter_Fences04…and large lamps at the top of many towers with amber and blue lights indicating the status of the fence.

Jurassic_Park_Perimeter_Fences02 Continue reading

New terms for: Tilt away from a plane perpendicular to the line of sight

As part of the ongoing review of the Iron Man HUD, I noticed a small feature in the Iron Man 3 UI that—in order to critique—I have to discuss some new concepts and introduce some new terms. The feature itself is genuinely small and almost not worth posting about, but the terms are interesting, so bear with me.

Most of the time JARVIS animates the HUD, the UI elements sit on an invisible sphere that surrounds his head. (And in the case of stacked elements, on concentric invisible spheres.) The window of Pepper in the following screenshot illustrates this pretty clearly. It is a rectangular video feed, but appears slightly bowed to us, being on this sphere near the periphery of this 2nd-person view.


…And Pepper Potts is up next with her op-ed about the Civil Mommy Wars. Stay tuned.

Having elements slide around on the surface of this perceptual sphere is usable for Tony, since it means the elements are always facing him and thereby optimally viewable. “PEPPER POTTS,” for example, is as readable as if it was printed on a book perpendicular to his line of sight. (This notion is a bit confounded by the problems of parallax I wrote about in an earlier post, but since that seems unresolvable until Wim Wouters implements this exact HUD on Oculus Rift, let’s bypass it to focus on the new thing.)

So if it’s visually optimal to have 2D UI elements plastered to the surface of this perceptual sphere, how do we describe that suboptimal state where these same elements are not perpendicular to the line of sight, but angled away? I’m partly asking for a friend named Tony Stark because that’s some of what we see in Iron Man 3, both in 1st- and 2nd-person views. These examples aren’t egregious.


The Iron Patriot debut album cover graphic is only slightly angled and so easy to read. Similarly, the altimeter thingy on the left is still wholly readable.

Continue reading

Main Power Board


To restore the power that Nedry foolishly shut down (and thereby regain a technological advantage over the dinosaurs), Dr. Sattler must head into  the utility bunker that routes power to different parts of the park. Once she is there Hammond, back in the Visitors Center, communicates to her via two-way radio that operating it is a two part process: Manually providing a charge to the main panel, and then closing each of the breakers.

The Main Panel


To restore a charge to the main panel, she  manually cranks a paddle (like a kinetic-powered watch, radio, or flashlight), then firmly pushes a green button labeled “Push to Close”.  We hear a heavy click inside the panel as the switch flips something, and then the lights on the Breaker Panel list light up green.

Now that she has built up a charge in the circuit, she has to turn on each of the breakers one by one. Continue reading

Control Room Power Board


Once Dr. Sattler restores power to the park, Arnold needs to reboot the computer systems. To do this, he must switch off the circuits (C1–C3 in the screenshot above), and then switch off-and-on a circuit labeled “Main”.


It’s a good thing Arnold knows what he’s doing, since these switches are only labeled C1-3, and we don’t see any documentation in the camera frame.  As he turns off each circuit, different parts of the computer terminals in the Control Room shut down.  This implies that different computer banks are tied to the same power circuits as the systems they control.

So, since this is a major interface for the park, let’s make this bit explicit: When designing infrequently-used but mission-critical interfaces, take great care to explain use, using clear affordances and constraints so that mistakes are very, very difficult to make. 

It might look like a mistake to have all the little electrical labeling to the sides, since this cover would have to be removed to get the components where this information would be of use. But that’s perfect. A user needing to remove this panel must encounter this reference information to get to those components, and so would know where to find them. This is a brilliant example of the pattern Put the Signal in the Path. Let’s hope there are similar signs on other access panels.


Wait…where are the backups?

These are the central computer terminals that run Jurassic Park, and keep visitors safe from the “attractions.”  And there is no backup power.

When Arnold turns off the main circuit breaker, the computers (and servers behind them) turn off immediately.  The purpose and effect of the power switch deactivates all the systems in Jurassic Park, without any kind of warning or backup system.

For something as dangerous as deadly deadly dinosaurs—raised from the 65 million-year deep grave of extinction—the system deactivation should at least trigger some kind of warning.

Tornado sirens have backup batteries in case the city power goes out.  They are a solid example of a backup system that should exist, at minimum, to warn park-goers to move quickly towards shelter.  A better backup system would be a duplicate server system that automatically activates all the fences in the park.

Redundant Systems

When Arnold cycles the visitor center’s power system, it also trips the breakers for all of the other power systems in the park.  Primary safety systems like that should be on their own circuit.  It’s ok if the fridges turn off and melt the ice cream (though it may be an inconvenience), but that same event shouldn’t also deactivate the velociraptor pen security.  Especially when the ‘raptor pen is right next to the visitor center and is a known, aforementioned, deadly deadly threat.

Iron Man HUD: 2nd-person view

The HUD itself displays a number of core capabilities across the Iron Man movies prior to its appearance in The Avengers. Cataloguing these capabilities lets us understand (or backworld) how he interacts with the HUD, equipping us to look for its common patterns and possible conflicts. In the first-person view, we saw it looked almost entirely like a rich agentive display, but with little interaction. Now, let’s look at that gorgeous 2nd-person view.

When in the first film Tony first puts the faceplate on and says to JARVIS, “Engage heads-up display”… IronMan1_HUD00 …we see things from a narrative-conceit, 2nd-person perspective, as if the helmet were huge and we are inside the cavernous space with him, seeing only Tony’s face and the augmented reality interface elements. IronMan1_HUD07 You might be thinking, “Of course it’s a narrative conceit. It’s not real. It’s in a movie.” But what I mean by that is that even in the diegesis, the Marvel Cinematic World, this is not something that could be seen. Let’s move through the reasons why. Continue reading

Security Alert

The security alert occurs in two parts. The first is a paddock alert that starts on a single terminal but gets copied to the big shared screen. The second is a security monitor for the visitor center in which the control room sits.  Both of these live as part of the larger Jurassic Park.exe, alongside the Explorer Status panel, and take the place of the tour map on the screen automatically.

Paddock Monitor


After Nedry disables security, the central system fires an alert as each of the perimeter fence systems go down.  Each section of the fence blinks red, with a large “UNARMED” on top of the section.  After blinking, the fence line disappears. To the right is the screen for monitoring vehicles. Continue reading

Genetics Program


According to Hammond, the geneticists in the lab and the software they’re using is “The Real Deal”.

It is a piece of software intended to view and manipulate dino DNA into a format that (presumably) can be turned into viable dinosaur embryos.  The screen is tilted away from us during viewing, and we aren’t able to see the extensive menu and labeling system on the left hand side of the desktop.

Behind it are more traditional microscopes, lab machines, and centrifugal separators.

Visible on the screen is a large pane with a 2D rendering of a 3d object that is the DNA that is being manipulated.  It is a roughly helical shape, with the green stripes corresponding to the protein structure, and various colored dots representing the information proteins in between.

JurassicPark_Genetics02 Continue reading