Welcome…to Jurassic Park

So…guess what opens up this week? That’s right, it’s Jurassic World, the fourth in the series of epic action dinoflicks that all began with the one that shares the name of the original novel by Michael Crichton: Jurassic Park. Well, since I haven’t yet figured out how to get my hands on screeners of the new pics, we’re going to review the original movie and all of it’s Dawn-of-the-Internet glory. And yes, even that interface.

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And looking at the trailer for Jurassic World, it looks like there will be plenty of interfaces to review when it finally comes out to be reviewed.

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And Marvel fans can relax, I’ll still be publishing the ongoing reviews of The Avengers. It’s going to be a busy week here on the blog, but at least it culminates with giant dinosaurs and deadly, deadly museum kiosk interfaces. See you in the cinema.

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Jurassic Park (1993): Overview

Release date: 11 June 1993, United States

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As with all overviews, ALL THE SPOILERS ahead.

Venture Capitalist John Hammond hires paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant, paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler, and chaos theoretician Dr. Ian Malcolm to visit and approve a novel safari park, named Jurassic Park, he has built on a small island near Costa Rica. He has populated the island with dinosaurs, which are cloned from dinosaur blood harvested from mosquitoes trapped in prehistoric amber. Joining the doctors on their remote-controlled Jeep tour of the park-in-progress are two of Hammond’s grandchildren, Tim and Lex, as well as lawyer Donald Gennaro.

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Though the tour is troubled with production problems, real trouble starts when a massive storm blows in just as the park’s key developer Dennis Nedry enacts a plan to steal dinosaur embryos—a plan which involves his shutting off the security system to hide his actions. To reboot the security systems, Hammond must shut off the power to the whole park. Without the threat of the electrified fences holding them in, the carnivorous dinosaurs break free and begin hunting everything on the island, including the people. Nedry, Gennaro, game warden Muldoon, and chief technology officer Arnold are each killed. Eventually the remaining survivors take refuge in the visitors center. They manage to restore power to the island and thereby the security system, but not before the vicious utahraptors velociraptors figure out how to *gulp* open doors, and flank everyone to the heart of the visitor’s center. All seems lost until the massive tyrannosaurus rex bursts in, hunting the velociraptors, and as the dinosaurs fight, the human survivors escape in a helicopter to the mainland.

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Velociraptor Lock

The velociraptor pen is a concrete pit, topped with high-powered electric fences.  There are two ways into the pen: a hole at the top of the pen for feeding, and a large armored door at ground level for moving ‘raptors in and out. This armored door has the first interface seen in the film, the velociraptor lock.

JurassicPark_velociraptorlock03 Velociraptors are brought from breeding grounds within the park to a secure facility in a large, heavily armored crate. Large, colored-light indicators beside the door indicate whether the armored cages are properly aligned with the door.  The light itself goes from red when the cage is being moved, to yellow when the cage is properly aligned and getting close to the door, to green when the cage is properly aligned and snug against the concrete walls of the velociraptor pen.  There is also a loud ‘clang’ as the light turns to green.  It isn’t clear if this is an audio indicator from the pen itself, the cage hitting the concrete wall, or locks slamming into place; but if that audio cue wasn’t there, you’d want something like it since the price for getting that wrong is quite high.

The complete interface consists of four parts (kind of, read on): The lights, the door, the lock, and the safety. More on each below. Continue reading

Barbasol Can

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The Barbasol can is a camouflaged container that Nedry uses to smuggle genetic information, i.e. dinosaur embryos, off the island to an unnamed group that is willing to pay him a lot of money for this act of industrial espionage.

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The exterior case looks identical to an off-the-shelf can of Barbasol shaving cream, and hides a metal cradle for the DNA vials. With a twist, the cradle pops up.  When twisted back, the cradle locks into place.  Dennis uses this under tight time constraints to steal the DNA samples and carry them. Continue reading

Ground Penetrating Radar Gun

The ground penetrating radar gun is a cutting edge piece of technology used by Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler for their field paleontology work. After firing a blank round into the ground, a second piece of equipment picks up the returning sound waves.

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Those results are then displayed on a small CRT TV, to which they have taped a makeshift glare. A technician sits at the equipment stack with a keyboard, but no recognizable computer screen. Several buttons, dials, and a waveform monitor complement the setup.

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After twiddling some dials, and punching a few keys, the technician makes the sonogram appear on the monitor, revealing a utahraptor velociraptor skeleton. Dr. Grant then tries to point out to eager onlookers some of the interesting features of the fossil on the screen. When he touches it, the screen fuzzes for a moment. It appears to be a very delicate piece of equipment in a very harsh part of the desert.

After Grant explains how the gun shows the fossils still in the ground, Sattler comments—foreshadowingly—that “Soon enough, we won’t even have to dig any more…” Enter Hammond and the ironic fulfillment narrative.

Iterate through the Prototype Phase

It looks like this is a very early version of the device, and still very much a prototype. This means it has a lot of issues: very delicate, obfuscated controls, and requires a small team dedicated to just making it work. It doesn’t look fully ready for the field yet…

…And that’s awesome.

This is the perfect example of a usability test: we now know that crotchety archeologists (the primary customer for this product) are going to want to poke it, prod it, and see a lot of detail.  Those are things that, at this stage, can probably still be fixed and improved.

The controls, if that’s what they really are, still have time to be iterated into a usable format.  We know they aren’t usable because even the archeology team struggles with it.

All vital information for getting back to the next iteration for making it better for actual field paleontologists. Until they’re rendered extinct, anyway.

Weather Monitor

Jurassic Park’s weather prediction software sits on a dedicated computer. It pulls updates from some large government weather forecast (likely NOAA).  The screen is split into three sections (clockwise from top left):

  1. 3D representation of the island and surrounding ocean with cloud layers shown
  2. plan view of the island showing cloud cover
  3. A standard climate metrics along the bottom with data like wind direction (labeled Horizontal Direction), barometric pressure, etc.

We also see a section labeled “Sectors”, with “Island 1” currently selected (other options include “USA” and “Island 2”…which is suitably mysterious).

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Using the software, they are able to pan the views to the area of ocean with an incoming tropical storm.  The map does not show rainfall, wind direction, wind speed, or distance; but the control room seems to have another source of information for that.  They discuss the projected path of the storm while looking at the map.

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Missing Information

The park staff relies on the data from weather services of America and Costa Rica, but doesn’t trust their conclusions (Muldoon asks if this storm will swing out of the way at the last second despite projections, “like the last one”).  But the team at Jurassic Park doesn’t have any information on what’s actually happening with the storm.

Unlike local weather stations here in the U.S., or sites like NOAA weather maps, there is in this interface a lack of basic forecasting information like, say, precipitation amount, precipitation type, individual wind speeds inside the storm, direction, etc… Given the deadly, deadly risks inherent in the park, this seems like a significant oversight.

The software has spent a great deal of time rendering a realistic-ish cloud (which, we should note looks foreshadowingly like a human skull), but neglects to give information that is taken for granted by common weather information systems.

Prediction

When the park meteorologist isn’t on duty, or isn’t awake, or has his attention on the Utahraptor trying to smash its way into the control room, the software should provide some basic information to everyone on staff:

  • What does the weather forecast look like over the next few hours and days?

When the weather is likely to be severe, there’s more information, and it needs to urgently get the attention of the park staff.

  • What’s the prediction?
  • Which parts of the park will be hit hardest?
  • Which tours and staff are in the most dangerous areas?
  • How long will the storm be over the island?

If this information tied into mobile apps or Jurassic Park’s wider systems, it could provide alerts to individual staff, tourists, and tours about where they could take shelter.

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Make the Information Usable

Reorienting information that is stuck on the bottom bar and shifting it into the 3d visual would lower the cognitive load required to understand everything that’s going on.  Adding in visuals for other weather data (taken for granted in weather systems now) would bring it at least up to standard.

Finally, putting it up on the big monitor either on demand or when it is urgent would make it available to everyone in the control room, instead of just whoever happened to be at the weather monitor. Modern systems would push the information information out to staff and visitors on their mobile devices as well.

With those changes, everyone could see weather in real time to adjust their behavior appropriately (like, say, delaying the tour when there’s a tropical storm an hour south), the programmer could check the systems and paddocks that are going to get hit, and the inactive consoles could do whatever they needed to do.

Paddock Design

A number of the interfaces in Jurassic Park show a plan view map of the paddocks on the island. Some of them are quite unusual (take a look that that wraparound one in the center) and we wondered if the paddock shapes made any sense. It’s a little outside the site’s focus on interaction design, but that didn’t matter. Once we had the question, it kept tugging on our gastralia.

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But, we’re not zoo architects, so we reached out to one of the premier such agencies, CLR Design in Philadelphia. They specialize in designing zoo environments and have an impressive portfolio with plans and exhibits all over the United States and around the world.

Don’t see any unarmed dinosaur paddocks HERE, now do you?

Don’t see any unarmed dinosaur paddocks HERE, now do you?

“They,” we thought, “They’ll be able to give us an informed opinion.” So we shot them an email, explained the odd request, and to our nerdy delight Dan Gregory gave us the following awesome thoughts. Continue reading

Ford Explorers

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The Ford Explorer is an automated vehicle driven on an electrified track through a set route in the park.  It has protective covers over its steering wheel, and a set of cameras throughout the car:

  • Twin cameras at the steering wheel looking out the windshield to give a remote chauffeur or computer system stereoscopic vision
  • A small camera on the front bumper looking down at the track right in front of the vehicle
  • Several cameras facing into the cab, giving park operators an opportunity to observe and interact with visitors. (See the subsequent SUV Surveillance post.)

Presumably, there are protective covers over the gas/brake pedal as well, but we never see that area of the interior; evidence comes from when Dr. Grant and Dr. Saddler want to stop and look at the triceratops they don’t even bother to try and reach for the brake pedal, but merely hop out of the SUV.

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Ford Explorer Status

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One computer in the control room is dedicated to showing the status of the Jeeps out on tour, and where they currently are on the island.

Next to the vehicle outline, we see the words “Vehicle Type: Ford Explorer” (thank you, product placement) along with “EXP” 4–7.  EXP 4 & 5 look unselected, but have green dots next to them, while EXP 6 & 7 look selected with red dots next to them.  No characters interact with this screen. Mr. Arnold does tap on it with a pen (to make a point though, not to interact with it).

On the right hand side of the screen also see a top-down view of the car with the electric track shown underneath, and little red arrows pointing forward.  Below the graphic are the words “13 mph”.  The most visible and obvious indicator on the screen is the headlights.  A large “Headlights On” indicator is at the top of the screen, with highlighted cones coming out of the Jeep where the headlights are on the car. Continue reading

Night Vision Goggles

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Genarro: “Are they heavy?”
Excited Kid: “Yeah!”
Genarro: “Then they’re expensive, put them back”
Excited Kid: [nope]

The Night Vision Goggles are large binoculars that are sized to fit on an adult head.  They are stored in a padded case in the Tour Jeep’s trunk.  When activated, a single red light illuminated in the “forehead” of the device, and four green lights appear on the rim of each lens. The green lights rotate around the lens as the user zooms the binoculars in and out. On a styling point, the goggles are painted in a very traditional and very adorable green and yellow striped dinosaur pattern.

Tim holds the goggles up as he plays with them, and it looks like they are too large for his head (although we don’t see him adjust the head support at all, so he might not have known they were adjustable).  He adjusts the zoom using two hidden controls—one on each side.  It isn’t obvious how these work. It could be that…

  • There are no controls, and it automatically focuses on the thing in the center of the view or on the thing moving.
  • One side zooms in, and the other zooms out.
  • Both controls have a zoom in/zoom out ability.
  • Each side control powers its own lens.
  • Admittedly, the last option is the least likely.

Unfortunately the movie just doesn’t give us enough information, leaving it as an exercise for us to consider.

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