Colonial One is a luxury passenger liner in commercial service until the war with the Cylons breaks out. The captain and co-pilot are not military pilots, and most passengers are dignitaries or VIPs visiting the Galactica for the unveiling of it as a museum.
Compared to military cockpits and the CIC aboard the Galactica, Colonial One’s cockpit has simple controls and an unsophisticated space-borne sensor system. Also unlike the Galactica or the Raptors, no one on Colonial One calls their space-borne sensor system the “Dradis”. At the center of each control console is a large gimbal-based horizon indicator.
The sensors show a simple 2-d representation of local space, with nearby contacts indicated as white dots. There is no differentiation between ‘enemy’ and ‘friendly’ contacts. Likewise, the image of a Cylon missile (shown above) is the same indicator as other ships. There is no clear explanation of what the small white dots on the background of the image are, or what the lines indicate.
When the Cylon fighters show up, the crew has some unknown way besides this screen of knowing the Cylons have just jumped into contact range, and that they have launched missiles at Colonial One. How the crew determines this isn’t shown, but both the crew and Apollo are confident that the assessment is correct.
When Laura Rosilyn tells the crew to send a message on a specific frequency before the missile attack, the crew uses the same keypad to send alpha-numeric signals over a radio/faster-than-light (FTL) link as to enter information into their flight computers. The FTL link appears to connect every planet in the Colonies together in real time: we don’t get any sense of delay between the attacks happening and the entire civilization reacting to it in real time.
The largest usability concern here is Mode Switching, and making it clear whether the crew is entering information into the ship or into the radio. Given that we see the crew interact most with the ship itself, the following procedure would make the most sense:
- Entering information into the ship is the primary ‘mode’
- An explicit command to switch over to the radio link.
- Crew enters the given information into the link
- On ‘enter’, the interface flips back over to entering information into the ship.
With a larger budget, the Dradis is a better system (at least with the improvements installed)
A large amount of space inside the cockpit is given over to communication controls and a receiver station. At the receiver station, Colonial One has a small printer attached to an automatic collector that prints off broadcast messages. The function and placement of the printer appears similar to weather printers on modern passenger jets.
The cockpit is very utilitarian, and the controls look well used. These are robust systems and look like they have been in place for a while. Despite the luxury associated with the passenger compartment, the crew have been granted no special luxuries or obvious assisting equipment to make their job more comfortable.
If we look at a current (or, up until very recently current) pattern: the Space Shuttle has a very similar layout. It is intended to also enter the atmosphere, which Colonial One is shown with the equipment to do, and maintains a 2.5D movement concept. Given that it’s a commercial ship with direct paths to follow, Colonial One does not need the complicated controls – that are shown to be very difficult to master – that are present on ships like the Viper.
Overall, a solid pattern
In-universe, this ship was not designed for combat, and is woefully unprepared for it when it arrives. The sensor system and the controls appear specialized for the job of ferrying high-paying customers from one planet to another through friendly space. Other ships also have the same level of manual controls and physical switches in the cockpit, though it is impossible to tell whether this is because Colonial One was built in the same era as the Galactica, or whether the builders wanted extra reliability in the controls than ‘modern’ electronics provided.
As long as the pilots are as well trained as current-day commercial pilots, the banks of controls would provide solid spatial grouping and muscle memory. There might be some room to shrink the number of controls or group them better, but we lack the context to dig into that particular issue.
One minor fix would be the possibility of mode errors for the keypad. It is not obvious when the crew changes from “I want to enter information into Colonial One to change operating parameters” and “I want to send a message to someone else”. A clear way to indicate that the keyboard is sending information to the ship, compared to sending information to the radio system, would clear up the possibility of a mode-switch error. Common options could be:
- A large switch close by that changed the color of the lights
- A bi-directional light with labels on which mode it’s in
- or distinct separation between the Pilot’s keyboard and the Co-pilot’s keyboard
Of the three, a clear distinction between pilot’s keyboard and co-pilot’s keyboard would be the most secure; provided that there was a switch in case of emergency.
The Colonial One copies many interface patterns from modern airliners. Since the airline industry has one of the best and most sophisticated UI design in practice right now, there are very few obvious recommendations to make, and credit should be given for how realistic it looks.
It’s possible, given the amount of MFDs in the cockpit that the key pad is linked to the pilot’s primary display, and thus, when he switches the MFD to wireless mode, the keypad would switch. Overall though, a 10 key numberpad is a poor option for typing radio messages, what if Roslin’s code had letters in it?
The Colonial One cockpit is a real, analogue, Space Shuttle trainer cockpit. This is most noticeable by the windows and the older, original, analogue ‘tape’ counters and displays. I’ve no idea where they went to use this mock-up.