The Drone

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Each drone is a semi-autonomous flying robot armed with large cannons, heavy armor, and a wide array of sensor systems. When in flight mode, the weapon arms retract. The arms extend when the drone senses a threat.

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Each drone is identical in make and temperament, distinguishable only by large white numbers on its “face”. The armored shell is about a meter in diameter (just smaller than Jack). Internal power is supplied by a small battery-like device that contains enough energy to start a nuclear explosion inside of a sky-scraper-sized hydrogen distiller. It is not obvious whether the weapons are energy or projectile-based.

The HUD

The Drone Interface is a HUD that shows the drone’s vision and secondary information about its decision making process. The HUD appears on all video from the Drone’s primary camera. Labels appear in legible human English.

Video feeds from the drone can be in one of several modes that vary according to what kind of searching the drone is doing. We never see the drone use more than one mode at once. These modes include visual spectrum, thermal imaging, and a special ‘tracking’ mode used to follow Jack’s bio signature.

Occasionally, we also see the Drone’s primary objective on the HUD. These include an overlay on the main view that says “TERMINATE” or “CLEAR”.

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In English, the HUD displays what look to be GPS (or similar) coordinates at the top, the Drone’s number (i.e. 185), and the letters A1-XX. The second ‘X’ is greyed out, and this area remains constant between Drones regardless of what mode they are in or what their current mission is.

Additional information covers the left and right sides of the Drone’s vision. All information on the HUD changes in real time, and most appears to be status information about the drone itself or its connection to the Home Station and the Tet.

Physical Feedback

For nearby techs (or enemies), the Drones have a simple voice (tonal) language to describe queries, anger, and acknowledgement of commands. This is similar to R2-D2 from Star Wars, or to pets, like dogs and cats.

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If people or Maintenance Techs are close enough to see details on the drone, the drones’ iris dilates when the drone enters an aggressive mode, then contracts when the drone determines that there is no further threat.

Post-Mission Review

As an overlay on the video feed, this looks like an attempt to more fully immerse the maintenance team in the (artificial) story that the Tet is trying to perpetuate. We never see Vika watch directly through a drone’s eye, but she accesses similar information very easily from the Tet and the Bubbleship.

The most useful situation for this kind of HUD overlay is a post-mission review of a Drone’s activity. Post-mission, the HUD would allow the team to understand how the Drone was making decisions. Given that the Drones appear to be low-level Artificial Intelligence, this would be useful for getting into the Drone’s mind. Jack knows that the drones are temperamental from his encounter at the downed NASA ship, and he would want to make sure that he understands them.

Given how quickly the drone makes decisions, there would not be enough time for Vika to notice that a Drone had made a decision (based on its HUD), then countermand that order. The drone appears to have just enough reaction time for Jack to announce himself before being eliminated.

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If the numbers at the top do conform to the Drone’s current position on the ground, it is surprising that it doesn’t also show the altitude of the drone. The Drone’s position in 3d space would be far more useful to a team trying to understand what the Drone was up to after a mission. It is likely that this is an attempt to keep information from the maintenance team to correspond better to Vika’s 2d command console, and the Tet likely knows exactly where each drone is.

If the maintenance team is infrequently accessing the Drone HUD, more labeling of information on the active status of the Drones would make the data more useful on quick viewing. Right now, the maintenance team needs to constantly remember what each area means, and what each icon represents. The different data formats are good clues, but more labeling would make everything instantly clear and allow the team to focus on the situation instead of deciphering the interface.

At the same time, the wealth of information related to the Drone’s operational status means that a review session using freeze-frames could allow a Team to deduce any functional reasons for an unexpected or catastrophic action on the Drone’s part. Thus the suggestion is reinforced that this HUD is meant for post-operation analysis and not in-the-moment error correction.

There is a potential clue (or Tet hand-tip) for the Team here: Even a catastrophic failure that resulted in the termination of Jack is acceptable enough for Tet not to emphasize in-the-moment error correction as an option for the Team. Tet knows it has plenty of Maintenance Team members in queue. The Maintenance Team does not.

Deceptive, Effectively

The Drone HUD provides useful information to the Maintenance Team for post-mission review. This HUD also works well as a way to make the maintenance team think it has control and understanding over the drone. This deception effectively keeps critical information firmly in the hands of the Tet.

For the Maintenance Team, this deception doesn’t affect their job. What does affect their job is the lack of labels on the data. Better labeling and a more efficient use of space around the edges would make the maintenance team’s life much easier without releasing any extra information from the Tet’s hands.

Perhaps the abundance of information on the display is meant to suggest to the Maintenance Team that other humans will deal with or are dealing with that overabundance in some other setting. If so, these would be impressive lengths for Tet to go to in its serial deception of each instance of the team.

It is worth noting that Oblivion marks one of relatively few cases where an internally-facing HUD with human-readable data can be rationalized as part of the story, rather than simply material for the viewing audience.

Lessons:

  1. Clearly label Information
  2. Speak in a language your users understand
  3. Don’t use up space with unnecessary information

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