On each of the sleep pods in which the Odyssey crew sleep, there is a display for monitoring the health of the sleeper. It includes some biometric charts, measurements, a body location indicator, and a countdown timer. This post focuses on that timer.
To show the remaining time of until waking Julia, the pod’s display prompts a countdown that shows hours, minutes and seconds. It shows in red the final seconds while also beeping for every second. It pops-up over the monitoring interface.
The thing with pop-ups
We all know how it goes with pop-ups—pop-ups are bad and you should feel bad for using them. Well, in this case it could actually be not that bad.
Although the sleep pod display’s main function is to show biometric data of the sleeper, the system prompts a popup to show the remaining time until the sleeper wakes up. And while the display has some degree of redundancy to show the data—i.e. heart rate in graphics and numbers— the design of the countdown brings two downsides for the viewer.
- Position: it’s placed right in the middle of the screen.
- Size: it’s roughly a quarter of the whole size of the display
Between the two, it partially covers both the pulse graphics and the numbers, which can be vital, i.e. life threatening—information of use to the viewer.
At the same time the display has another user, the sleeper. Since she can’t get back or respond in any way, this display is her only way of communication. As such, the device ought to react at least as well as a person would. So while normally a pop-up should only be used to show important data that the user really must know, this case is different. The pop up is not blindly blocking information, it’s reflecting the user’s priorities at that moment. And it’s for this reason that the timer bears that much visual importance on the screen.
But the display is also a touchscreen, which you can tell from the buttons in the timer. So in case the viewer really needs to see the entire display, it would require putting the timer in a separate mode. But that would require him switch back and forth between modes to get all the data.
Rome wasn’t built in 99 hours.
The countdown timer shows the amount of hours, minutes and seconds until the sleeper wakes, counting backwards. We just get to see the timer —and hear it beeping— only when the sleep time is ending, so it’s likely a feature to notify any close witness that the pod is about to open.
But what if the sleeper’s biometrics start to get bad? Well, the timer does leave enough room on the screen to leave the bulk of the biometrics data. The device also has a warning for when the sleeper is in CRITICAL condition, but we don’t get to see any in-between modes. It could be helpful if the timer offered some sound cue when the sleeper has some minor issue as well, even if it isn’t as bad. Even something as simple as changing the tone of the beep could do the trick.
Did you notice that the timer has two digits to display hours? That means it can display 99 hours of remaining time. That’s a long time. I’m guessing that the display doesn’t show the countdown with that much time in advance. But in that case, when does it show the timer? If the timer looks to give a hint when a sleeper is about to wake up, you don’t really need to know the amount of hours left. A few minutes’ advance notice is enough.
Kind-of setting the timer.
Although the crew of the Odyssey could probably handle the delta sleep from the onboard computer, the display also offers some functions to control that time. It has three buttons that control the timer:
- a START button
- a RESET button
- a CLEAR button
The timer has two small half-circles both at the top and bottom of the clock. There is a play button. The timer needs to have a way to enter a given duration, and from the mapping of those symbols I’m guessing they could work as adding and subtracting buttons —you know, press the top button to add an hour, press the bottom button to reduce an hour. But at the same time the buttons don’t have any labels to convey that—they lack either a plus symbol on the top or a minus symbol on the bottom. For what it’s worth, the only label they offer is the time magnitude of any pair of digits—hours, minutes and seconds—on the circles at the bottom. So yeah, I’m close to calling these fuidgets.
The text buttons need some consideration as well. The first two are pretty straightforward if we envision the scenario where the clock timer can be set to any given time. In that case START will start the clock and RESET will put it back to zero, as with any common timer. The odd bit is that there is still a START button while the clock is ticking. In many common timers that same button has two modes that switch according to the state of the timer: starting it when it’s paused and pausing it when it it’s playing. But the missing pause mode or button could have a purpose, perhaps waking the sleeper requires a gradual biological process that can’t be stop once it has began.
There are other problems with the third one, the CLEAR button. Although the label is somewhat misleading, the button probably acts as a way to close the pop-up of the countdown, removing it from the screen. But the real issue is what happens after that. If the user press CLEAR and the pop-up closes, there is no way of knowing if the timer keeps running in the background or if it resets back to zero. This is a major problem.
Anyhow, even if the timer did run in the background it doesn’t have much of a point in this case. I mean, there was no one around to check on Julia while she was in sleep.
A little ramble on Industrial Design
Another interesting aspect of the design of the pods is the way they open. Instead of opening or sliding the cover to one side, as more common doors and hatches, the cover of the pods is divided in the middle like a double-leaf bascule drawbridge. These covers on the pod have a hinge both at the top and bottom, so they turn outside and up of the pod when opening.
Although it may seem like an overly complicated design, it really shows its advantages when you set it in context. On the Odyssey the sleep pods are placed side by side, alongside the walls of a tube like compartment. There, the area around the center has hatches that lead to other compartments.
Within a space of those characteristics, a cover that opens or slides to the side would bring some problems. As the cover slides, when opening a pod you would be blocking the one next to it. To improve that, you could have a cover that opens up from the top or the bottom. With that you could have more than one pod closing and opening at the same time, but it also comes with drawbacks. Given the length of the pods those doors will probably cover much of the transit area around the compartments of the ship, becoming an obstacle for the movement of the crew.
This is a solution for both problems. The divided doors give plenty of space for the crew to pass through, and as the doors open up they also give room to opening or closing the pods next to each other at the same time.