Drone Programmer


One notable hybrid interface device, with both physical and digital aspects, is the Drone Programmer. It is used to encode key tasks or functions into the drone. Note that it is seen only briefly—so we’re going off very little information. It facilitates a crucial low-level reprogramming of Drone 172.

This device is a handheld item, grasped on the left, approximately 3 times as wide as it is tall. Several physical buttons are present, but are unused in the film: aside from grasping, all interaction is done through use of a small touchscreen with enough sensitivity to capture fingertip taps on very small elements.

Jack uses the Programmer while the drone is disabled. When he pulls the cord out of the drone, the drone restarts and immediately begins to try and move/understand its surroundings.


When Drone 172 is released from the Programmer cable, it is in a docile and inert state…


…but it quickly becomes aware, its failsafes shut down and its onboard programming taking over.

From this we understand that drones are controlled via internal software; this is the only time we see them programmed or their behavior otherwise influenced by a human. This reprogramming requires an external device wired into the drone in direct physical proximity, which suggests an otherwise high level of autonomy for each drone.

(Narrative implications) Following Orders

The Drone Programmer, and the way it interacts with Drone 172, suggests useful information about the Drones’ default states—namely, that their default state is autonomous, aggressive, and proactive, depending upon their orders and programming.

Drone 172 does not attack at this stage, and we have seen through Jack’s eyes on the screen that this is due to an overriding primary objective, implanted directly into the Drone’s firmware / low level programming: Rendezvous with the Tet.

(Interaction Design Analysis) Low Level Controller: Handle With Care


Its suggestion of a provisional or failsafe role is reinforced by warning text above the display, (legible at high resolution,) reflective of its power: “Electric Hazard Do Not Touch Terminals on Both Lines at Same Time: Lead Ends May Be Energized…

Between this and the sparks ignited when the cable is detached from the Drone, one gets the sense of a device somewhere between a terminal and a jumper cable. Potent, hazardous, direct.



Jack is clearly at ease with the Programmer and its usage from repair sessions at home and in the field. This ease suggests either that his training (or memory replacement) is thorough, or that such low level work is needed frequently enough to be quite familiar.

The latter explanation, along with the Programmer’s nature as a physical device requiring direct proximity, would reinforce the interpretation that Tet places a remarkable amount of trust in instances of the human Maintenance team, and that the equipment in question is nearly symbiotic with the Team(s) in its need for frequent recovery.

Thus through this one seemingly incidental device, and its low level role in the chain of command, we can deduce that the combination of Drones and Team(s) is much more effective than either could be individually. Jack was reprogrammed by his time spent in curious wandering, crossed with the opportunity presented by the book quotation mentioned as a trigger. In the case of Jack, the book and its couplet is the low-level reprogramming device, shocking in its directness.

Dialogue within the film reinforces the analogy directly: We learn during this sequence that the first invasion phase entailed many instances of a short-lived (non-learning) Jack as soldier. We also learn that phase two is this symbiotic maintenance arrangement between human and machine. When it is suggested that Drone 172 is the weapon, Jack corrects that it is he himself—its user and maintainer—who is the weapon. Without his role as user and maintainer, the machine would ultimately be a neutralized mechanical husk.


  1. Low level interfaces suggest fundamental programming and activity.
    (NOTE: Compare to interfaces such as the Nostromo Self Destruct pulls in Alien, etc.)
  2. Use of low level interfaces suggests familiarity and/or “grace under pressure”, as well as systemic trust in the user.
  3. Low level interfaces suggest a deep symbiosis between the user and the machine, to the point of interdependence.
    (NOTE: Compare to failsafe systems and manual overrides in aeronautics and (a few realistic moments in) space films such as Sunshine. In an alternate universe, I have the time to cover/analyse Sunshine to uncover this very dynamic…)
  4. Bonus Lesson (Oblivion-centric): By analogy, in highly technological or post-apocalyptic settings, books are, for humans, a low level interface, forcing the user to slow down and absorb sometimes startling, unexpected, or course-changing information.

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