The Drones’ primary task is to patrol the surface for threats, then eliminate those threats. The drones are always on guard, responding swiftly and violently against anything they do perceive as a threat.
During his day-to-day maintenance, Jack often encounters active drones. Initially, the drones always regard him as a threat, and offer him a brief window of time speak his name and tech number (for example, “Jack, Tech 49”) to authenticate. The drone then compares this speech against some database, shown on their HUD as a zoomed-in image of Jack’s mouth and a vocal frequency.
Occasionally, we see that Jack’s identification doesn’t immediately work. In those cases, he’s given a second chance by the drone to confirm his identity. Continue reading →
As far as Carmen is concerned, the shuttle is small fries. Her real interest is in piloting a big ship, like the Rodger Young.
On her first time at the helm as Pilot Trainee, she enters the bridge, reports for duty, and takes the number 2 chair. As she does, she reaches out to one of two panels and flips two green toggle switches simultaneously down, and immediately says, “Identify.”
In response her display screen (a cathode ray tube, guys, complete with bowed-glass surface!)—which had been reading STATION STANDBY in alternating red and yellow capitals—very quickly flashes the legend VOICE IDENTITY CONFIRMED in white letters before displaying a waveform with the label ANALYZING VOICEPRINT, ostensibly of her voice input. Then, having confirmed her identiy, it displays her IDENTIFICATION RECORD, including her name, portrait, mission status, current assignment, and a shouty all-caps red-letter welcome message at the bottom: WELCOME ABOARD ENSIGN. There are tables of tubles along the bottom and top of these screens but they’re unreadable in my copy.
She then reaches to the panel of physical controls again, and flips a red toggle switch before pressing two out of a 4×4 grid of yellow-orange momentary buttons. She sits back in her seat, and turns to see the ridiculously-quaffed Zander in the adjacent chair. Plot ensues.
Some challenges with this setup.
It looks like those vertical panels of unlabeled switches and buttons are all she’s got for input. Not the most ergonomic, if she’s expected to be entering data for any length of time or under any duress.
Having the display in front of her makes a great deal of sense, since most of the things she’s dealing with as either a pilot or navigator are not just out the front viewport.
The workflow for authentication is a little strange, and mismatched for the screens we see.
A toggle switch might make sense if it’s meaning was “I am present.” But we can imagine lots of other ways the system might sense that she is present passively, and not require her to flip the switch manually.
Why would it analyze the voiceprint after the voice identity was confirmed? It would have made more sense to have the first screen prompt her to provide a voice print, like “Provide voiceprint” with some visual confirmation that it’s currently recording and sensitive to her voice. Then when she finishes speaking the sample, then the next can say Analyzing voiceprint with the recorded waveform, and the final screen can read Voice identity confirmed, before moving on. I can’t readily apologize for the way it’s structured now. Fortunately it zips by so that most folks will just get it.
That waveform, by the way, is not for the word “identify.”. I opened the screen cap, isolated the “waveform”, tweaked it in Photoshop for levels, and expanded it.
I ran this image through the demo of a program called PhotoSounder. What played from my speakers was more like astronomy recordings than a voice. Admittedly, it’s audio interpreted from a very low-rez version of the waveform, but seriously, more data is not going to help resolve that audio spookiness into human language.
Props to the interface designers for NOT showing the waveform of sounds in the Rodger Young’s database. It would be explanatory, of course, to immediately see the freshly recorded one being compared against the one in the database. But it would not be very secure. A malefactor would just be able to screen cap or photograph the database version, interpret the waveform like I did for the sound above, and play it back for the system for a perfect match.
Additional props to whoever specced the password button presses after the login. She might be setting a view she wants to see, but I prefer it to mean the system is using multifactor authentication. She’s providing a password. Sure, it’s a weak one—2 hexadecimal characters—but it’s better than nothing, and would even help with the hacking I described in the above section.
The welcome message
Finally, the welcome message feels a little out of place. Is this the only place she encounters the computer system? The literal sense of “welcome aboard” is to welcome someone aboard, which would be most appropriate only when they, you know, come aboard, which surely was some time ago. Carmen at least had to drop her stuff off in quarters. It’s also used by individuals who have been aboard welcoming newcomers the first time they greet them. But that anthropomorphizes this interface, which through this interaction and the several we’ll see next, would be dangerously overpromising.
I have a special interest in sci-fi doors, so, for completeness in the database, I’m going to document what’s we see with the security doors of the Rodger Young, which is not much.
To access the bridge, Carmen walks through a short corridor, with large, plate-metal doors at either end. As she approaches each, they slide up over the course of about a second, making a grinding sound as they rise, and a heavy puff of air when they are safely locked open. (If they’re automatic, why don’t they close behind her?) The lower half-meter of each door is emblazoned with safety stripes.
Carmen appears to do nothing special to authenticate with the doors. That either means that there is no authentication, or that it’s a sophisticated passive authentication that works as she approaches. I suggested just such a passive authentication for the Prometheus escape pod. The main difference in what I recommended there and what we see here is that both Carmen and the audience could use some sort of feedback that this is happening. A simple glowing point with projection rays towards her eyes or something, and even a soft beep upon confirmation.
The only other time we see the door in action is after Carmen’s newly plotted course "discovers" the asteroid en route to Earth. It’s a Code Red situation, and the door doesn’t seem to behave any differently, even admitting about half a dozen people in at a time, so we have to presume that this is one those "dumb" doors.
For personal security during her expeditions on Earth, Eve is equipped with a powerful energy weapon in her right arm. Her gun has a variable power setting, and is shown firing blasts between “Melt that small rock” and “Mushroom Cloud visible from several miles away”
After each shot, the weapon is shown charging up before it is ready to fire again. This status is displayed by three small yellow lights on the exterior, as well as a low-audible charging whine. Smaller blasts appear to use less energy than large blasts, since the recharge cycle is shorter or longer depending on the damage caused.
On the Axiom, Eve’s weapon is removed during her service check-up and tested separately from her other systems. It is shown recharging without firing, implying an internal safety or energy shunt in case the weapon needs to be discharged without firing.
While detached, Wall-E manages to grab the gun away from the maintenance equipment. Through an unseen switch, Wall-E then accidentally fires the charged weapon. This shot destroys the systems keeping the broken robots in the Axiom’s repair ward secured and restrained.
Awesome but Irresponsible
I am assuming here that BNL has a serious need for a weapon of Eve’s strength. Good reasons for this are:
They have no idea what possible threats may still lurk on Earth (a possible radioactive wasteland), or
They are worried about looters, or
They are protecting their investment in Eve from any residual civilization that may see a giant dropship (See the ARV) as a threat.
In any of those cases, Eve would have to defend herself until more Eve units or the ARV could arrive as backup.
Given that the need exists, the weapon should protect Eve and the Axiom. It fails to do this because of its flawed activation (firing when it wasn’t intended). The accidental firing scheme is an anti-pattern that shouldn’t be allowed into the design.
The only lucky part about Wall-E’s mistake is that he doesn’t manage to completely destroy the entire repair ward. Eve’s gun is shown having the power to do just that, but Wall-E fires the weapon on a lower power setting than full blast. Whatever the reason for the accidental shot, Wall-E should never have been able to fire the weapon in that situation.
First, Wall-E was holding the gun awkwardly. It was designed to be attached at Eve’s shoulder and float via a technology we haven’t invented yet. From other screens shown, there were no physical buttons or connection points. This means that the button Wall-E hits to fire the gun is either pressure sensitive or location sensitive. Either way, Wall-E was handling the weapon unsafely, and it should not have fired.
Second, the gun is nowhere near (relatively speaking) Eve when Wall-E fires. She had no control over it, shown by her very cautious approach and “wait a minute” gestures to Wall-E. Since it was not connected to her or the Axiom, the weapon should not be active.
Third, they were in the “repair ward”, which implies that the ship knows that anything inside that area may be broken and do something wildly unpredictable. We see broken styling machines going haywire, tennis ball servers firing non-stop, and an umbrella that opens involuntarily. Any robot that could be dangerous to the Axiom was locked in a space where they couldn’t do harm. Everything was safely locked down except Eve’s gun. The repair ward was too sensitive an area to allow the weapon to be active.
Extremely sensitive area
Any one of those three should have kept Eve’s gun from firing.
Eve’s gun should have been locked down the moment she arrived on the Axiom through the gun’s location aware internal safeties, and exterior signals broadcast by the Axiom. Barring that, the gun should have locked itself down and discharged safely the moment it was disconnected from either Eve or the maintenance equipment.
A Possible Backup?
There is a rationale for having a free-form weapon like this: as a backup system for human crew accompanying an Eve probe during an expedition. In a situation where the Eve pod was damaged, or when humans had to take control, the gun would be detachable and wielded by a senior officer.
Still, given that it can create mushroom clouds, it feels grossly irresponsible.
In a “fallback” mode, a simple digital totem (such as biometrics or an RFID chip) could tie the human wielder to the weapon, and make sure that the gun was used only by authorized personnel. (Notably Wall-E is not an authorized wielder.) By tying the safety trigger to the person using the weapon, or to a specific action like the physical safeties on today’s firearms, the gun would prevent someone who is untrained in its operation from using it.
If something this powerful is required for exploration and protection, it should protect its user in all reasonable situations. While we can expect Eve to understand the danger and capabilities of her weapon, we cannot assume the same of anyone else who might come into contact with it. Physical safeties, removal of easy to press external buttons, and proper handling would protect everyone involved in the Axiom exploration team.
Sandmen surrender any physical objects recovered from the bodies of runners to the Übercomputer for evaluation via a strange device I’m calling The Evidence Tray.
As a Sandman enters the large interrogation chamber, a transparent cylinder lowers from the ceiling. At the top of this cylinder an arm continuously rotates bearing four pin lights. A chrome cone sits in the center of the base. The Sandman can access the interior of the cylinder through a large oblong opening in the side the top of which is just taller than Sandmen (who seem to be a near-uniform height). Continue reading →