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Who knew water could be so effective in piloting a ship?


"[The ship] won't move unless you're naked? That's very kinky, wouldn't you say?"

Aisha Clan Clan, Outlaw Star

One of the joys of reading or watching Speculative Fiction shows is the wonderfully bizarre touches an author can add, like the Unusual User Interface.

Want to make your cyborg or Ridiculously Human Robot seem truly technological? Have them plug a phone jack into their skull to browse the web. Maybe you'd like to wow the audience with a truly spectacular piloting system for a space ship? Have a Holographic Terminal serve as the flight controls. Or heck, maybe you just want to have the universe destroying superweapon be triggered by interpretive dance. Point is, there's more ways than a keyboard, knobs, or a steering wheel to tell a machine what to do in scifi, and here are some of those ways.

The likely users are cyborgs, robots, telepaths, Energy Beings, mages, and the genetically engineered. A normal human is unlikely to be able to use one of these unless it's non invasive.

Examples of Unusual User Interface include:

Anime and Manga

  • The Manga Shakespeare version of Hamlet is set in a futuristic (if a little used) cyberpunk world. Polonius uses a Holographic Terminal that seems to be controlled by a staff of some sort, and all letters and notes delivered in the play are in the form of small capsules that plug into ports on the characters' wrists (or in Horatio's case, forehead).
  • The Ghost in the Shell universe pulls this to its ultimate conclusion. Anything feasible goes. In addition to the standard back-of-the-neck jacks, there's communication with computers using speech alone, eye-to-eye laser communication, the ability to read barcodes off a page of paper, wireless network connections, and the author hints about a greater variety, but claims he chose to stick mostly to jacks-in-the-head because it was easiest to represent in the manga.
    • The reason (some) cyborgs used keyboards rather than direct interfacing was to avoid them catching a virus or getting hacked. The mechanically-enhanced fingers were just to enable cyborgs to type faster than humans.
  • The little hacker kid from DT Eightron doesn't use keyboards anymore; he links cables to the tip of his fingers and he types, in midair.
  • In Tenchi Muyo! GXP, Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain Seiryo's (un)Cool Ship, the Unko, is controlled in combat by a giant Bingo game. The entire scurvy crew of Space Pirates sit in front of boards, and maneuvering thrusters fire when a called number is on one of the cards; they return fire whenever someone gets "Bingo". Granted, the Hat of the ship is "Good Luck", but it's definitely weird.
  • In Outlaw Star, Melfina the android navigator controls the eponymous ship by being suspended naked in a tank of some liquid.
    • Not entirely. It seems to be that she merely facilitates the ease-of-use of the ships supposedly complex systems, since while she can control the ship if need be, the Outlaw Star is much more capable with Gene or Jim at the wheel as well, so to speak.
      • Melfina is the ship's hyperspace navigation computer. Gene and Jim can only fly the ship in combat mode, which Melfina in turn does not have the control over, but they would have no chance of flying it into any meaningful location without her.
  • A similar (or almost identical) situation occurs in Vandread, only with a human male.
  • The genetically engineered Abh from Crest of the Stars have one extra sensory organ in the middle of their forehead designed to interface with the sensors of spaceships in a read-only way.
    • The flight controls of their ships consist of a small keyboard built into the right arm rest of the pilot's chair, while the left arm rests in an elaborate glove serving as a combination throttle/stick.
  • Lain gets a direct neural interface in Serial Experiments Lain: she plugs herself to her Navi by sticking electrodes on her body and plugging them into the USB ports.
  • Unusual User Interfaces (as opposed to the traditional aircraft-cockpit style) for Humongous Mecha are very popular, as a means of Hand Waving the why behind giant humanoid tanks - they're an extension of the pilot's body:
    • Several Super Robot series us cockpits designed to copy the pilot's motions exactly, usually because they're super-powerful martial artists. The best-known example is G Gundam, but the originator is Daimos; GEAR Fighter Dendoh uses a similar interface, but is (initially) controlled by two people at once for added fun.
    • Gundam Wing has the ZERO System, which feeds data directly into the pilot's brain and reacts to his decisions practically at speed-of-thought. Unfortunately, if you don't have immaculate focus, it drives you crazy.
    • Gundam Seed cockpits aren't so much an unusual user interface as an unwieldy combination of pretty much every single common user interface, with buttons, switches, joysticks & multiple keyboards. This is probably because they were designed to be used by Designer Babies with enhanced reflexes.
      • This only applies to the Gundam cockpits. The ZAFT mass production mobile suit cockpits were straightforward and more user-friendly by comparison. I put it down to the Earth Alliance forces being incapable of designing a good user-interface system to save their lives.
        • It's actually a plot point. Kira, upon realizing how horrible the system is, rewrites the Strike's entire OS in the span of 30 seconds. They actually adapted Kira's customizations into the mass produced models, since their original system couldn't do crap.
    • Gundam Unicorn has the NT-D (New Type Drive) system, through combination of this, the psychoframe built into the entire mobile suits frame, and the psychowaves emitted by the pilots brain, the RX-0 Unicorn Gundam when in NT-D mode can be controlled by thought alone, however it's very taxing on the pilots mind and can only do so for 5 minutes, the real kicker is that it chooses when to activate, not at the pilots discretion.
    • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, the Eva units are controlled with a direct neural interface with their pilots, via the LCL and the A10 nerve clips (those joysticks are just for fine manipulation and weapons control which are properly not even necessary with a high enough sync-rate). Side effects may include sympathetic pain and injuries in direct proportion to the synchro-rate, the Evas going into sudden unstoppable rampages, being a helplessly immobile and vulnerable sitting duck at very low synchro-rates, or total tangification due to a very high synchro-rate. Reasons #527, 528, and 529 why it sucks to be an Eva pilot.
      • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann appears to have a similar system in Ganmen. Simon describes it as grabbing the control sticks and the movements just come to his head... then it's never even mentioned again. Then again, Ganmen are Spiral-powered and it's entirely possible that they are controlled through the pilot's fighting spirit.
    • Martian Successor Nadesico achieves this effect with Nanomachines allowing the pilot to interface directly with the mecha. These are also the control medium for larger military vehicles and a lot of civilian equipment in the Martian colonies. For once, there are no major downsides (it's the other Nanomachines you have to look out for), and it is in fact relatively easy to get the nanomachine injection if you're already in the military.
    • Arguably Justified Trope for Humongous Mecha that are more than what amounts to a tank on legs—the sheer complexity of controlling something with a range of movement comparable to the human body would dwarf even the most advanced planes, so either some sort of Unusual User Interface or assistance from some form of AI or advanced computer that translates inputs into situationally-appropriate actions would be all but entirely necessary. The issue that a literal tank on legs—a tank with hexapod or octopod (or even just quadruped, though that does forfeit the extra stability and redundancy provided by the extra legs) movement instead of treads—would be far more practical in most scenarios should probably be ignored.
  • The Novelizations of Robotech introduced the "Thinking Caps", which allowed pilots to form a mental image of what they wanted their mecha to do (while using standard controls) as a way to justify Motion Capture Mecha. (Super Dimension Fortress Macross had nothing of the sort, though a similar concept was later introduced in Macross Plus.)
    • Macross Plus features a full thought controlled fighter. This works to disastrous effects when the pilot was only considering a maneuver. But it also works to let the plane go beyond human tolerances
      • This might be slightly related to Guld *not being entirely human*. He's half Zentraedi. Which is why he isn't instantly turned into a puddle of goo when dogfighting with the X-9 after he turns off the limiter (but in the movie version there is a particularly graphic eyeball implosion in the fight sequence).
    • Macross 7 features Basara's custom Valkyrie controlled by a guitar.
  • The Humongous Mecha in The Big O used toggle switches, joysticks, foot pedals, keyboards, and buttons.
    • In the second season, the Megadeii like Big O are shown to be sentient, and can bond with their pilots by literally jacking into their backs; if someone who's not a proper Dominus tries to use one, however, he gets eaten alive by wires, just like Alan Gabriel.
  • The character Gein from Rurouni Kenshin builds several "combat dolls" - they're basically clockwork mech suits that are controlled with the same mechanism as puppets, except from the inside.
  • Cowboy Bebop has a fighter ship that drives like a motorcycle.
  • In Code Geass, the Japanese-made Knightmare Frames use motorcycle-style control systems, apparently to improve maneuverability (and to provide lots of shots of the female pilots bent over). In the novels, protagonist Lelouch tries using Action Girl Kallen's Guren Mk-II and discovers that it's completely beyond him.
    • The sole exception to this is Lelouch's own Mid-Season Upgrade, the Shinkirou. It has control sticks, but most of its functions are operated by keyboard and require someone as smart and quick-minded as him to operate it.

Comic Books

  • Cyberjack-style interfaces are common in Carla Speed McNeil's Finder series, and vary in complexity, from student-level jacks to full-immersion interfaces. Marcie's student jack makes it for medical computers to directly monitor her condition and influence her treatment. She can also use it to interface with computers, mentally conduct Instant Message conversations and learn skills quickly (albeit unpleasantly; Marcie runs away screaming when Lynne offers to teach her to read via hookup.) Movie theaters take advantage of this by including sensory enhancements and "mood tracks". In the Dream Sequence storyline, the narrator has a full-immersion connection as a job perk, which allows his employer to physically pack employees like sardines, while they experience a lush virtual office setting. The plot revolves around a virtual theme park/MMORPG whose creator hosts the world inside his fully-networked brain (which, of course, goes horribly wrong.)

Fan Works

  • In Tiberium Wars, the Nod Avatars are presented as having a powerful mind/machine interface, with the pilot existing in a sort of dream-like state where the operator shares operations with a cold, mechanical AI intelligence that helps them perceive their surroundings, which comes in as a constant stream of pure data and filtered into an alternate virtual reality for the pilot.


  • Superman has a Kryptonian computer made of crystals. Touching or rearranging the crystals makes the computer perform different functions. How he remembers these without labels is a Required Secondary Power.
  • RoboCop was stabbing the computers to download data.
  • eXistenZ has biological computers which interface with you through plugging a very phallic tentacle into a port in the base of your spine. The movie plays this for all it's worth, even having characters lick the ports of other characters during sex scenes.
  • The Matrix has every human used by the machines outfitted with a port in the back of the skull to plug into the matrix. Non-vat grown humans can't get one installed, either.
    • This means that natives of Zion, or in other words the grown up children of Matrix escapees, have to content themselves with either flying the hovercraft, or playing "Operator", which means plugging people into the Matix, getting them out, and giving them weaponry while they're in there. Well, in theory they could give them anything, but it's always guns. Lots of guns.
    • In Zion, humans with the port are plugged into a machine that... apparently lets them manipulate a huge 3-D computer interface.
  • The spaceship's core in Monsters vs. Aliens is controlled through a DDR-like dancepad. Luckily, Dr. Cockroach has a PhD in dance.
  • Minority Report has screens that are activated by motion and touch.
    • The interface used in Minority Report is actually becoming a kind of Truth in Television, as several technologies have developed (some inspired by the movie) that work on similar principles. One is the multitouch interface, such as Jeff Han's research and the Microsoft Surface. Even closer to the movie is the work being done by Johnny Chung Lee, where he emulates the interface in the movie using a Wii remote. However, the interface will never come to pass in the exact form depicted, because it breaks some obvious and crucial principles of ergonomics.
    • The innovation in the Surface was having the interface on the display; Fingerworks produced a number of multitouch interfaces integrated with keyboards and keypads several years prior, but they remained high-end curiosities; the company ceased production and was later bought out by Apple, presumably for its patents.
    • A gesture-based control system for Microsoft Windows was created using custom software driving a Microsoft Kinect sensor device. Although Microsoft is reportedly considering releasing 'official' PC interface software, the Kinect interface could be considered to be a "technology demonstrator" rather than an actual product.
  • Terminator 3 had the T-X call up a modem and "speak modem" to it on the phone to access a computer.
  • Ghostbusters 2 had the team turn the Statue Of Liberty into a Humongous Mecha with the help of a lot of ectoplasm...and a NES Advantage arcade joystick.
  • Johnny Mnemonic had a complex computer network that you operated with a special pair of glasses, gloves, and apparently a will-sensor, since Johnny never seems to do anything with his hands that could be interpreted as a proper control gesture.
  • District 9 had an alien ship steered by sticking your fingers in two small pots filed with some sort of gel. Looked really fricking cool.
    • There were also conventional touch screens.
  • The Na'vi in Avatar control animals with their genitals hair, and humans back at base control their computers by touching 3D screens.
  • In Flight of the Navigator, the boy flies the ship by placing his hands on two hemispheres, and leaning one way or another.
  • In Zardoz, a large crystal set into a ring projects written data or film footage onto surfaces, as well as responding in kind to verbal commands.
  • One of the alien ships in Buckaroo Banzai had its controls set up to be operated with one's toes.
  • In Galaxy Quest, the aliens manage to build spaceship controls that respond correctly from the random inputs they see on the TV series.
    • This works great for the pilot, who was very young and had invented his own ideas for all of the controls. For the engineer who was a prudish thespian and didn't care...
  • In Zoom, the spaceship at Area 51 is controlled via placing one's hand in a sphere of gooey stuff.


  • Telepathy runs computers in The Culture books. Or more specifically super advanced A.I.s run the computers and neural interfaces are simply the fastest way to speak to the A.I.s. Speech, gestures, handwriting, light signalling, and basically any other method to pass information work as well or could work if you simply inform an A.I. that you wish to start using that method.
    • Plus the mental images used to control the biological implants and drug glands.
  • Karl Schroeder's Permanence has an alien starship controlled by what amounts to a full body Nintendo "Powerglove".
  • In Jeff Noon's Vurt you access the shared virtual world/alternate reality/drugstate of the Vurt by sucking differently coloured feathers.
  • An ex-military space pilot in Katherine Kerr's Polar City Blues had a (sealed over) port in her head from interfacing with the ships she flew.
  • The writings of Cordwainer Smith are set many millennia in the future, and feature bizarre user interfaces: genetically altered animals, a giant scrying dish, and much, much more. But a lead character in perhaps Smith's most famous and frightening story, Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, is a computer whose interface consists of...spitting out a piece of paper tape with a few cryptic words on it, like a fortune cookie.
  • In Isaac Asimov's Foundation's Edge, a new model of starship has a neural interface, which the protagonist expects will involve a helmet. Instead, the panel bears a pair of holographic hands, which appear to grip his own when he puts them together.
  • In Dune, interstellar travel is only possible due to former humans, constantly bathed in a powerful drug, who mutate into Space Whales, predicting every possible path the ship could take and then somehow moving it themselves through space using psychic powers. While floating in midair, at least in the movies.
    • The books has engines for the moving part, but the Navigators do plot the safest course. The miniseries has a rather beautiful visual of a navigator "connecting the dots" between where the ship will travel. In the end, the user is the interface.
    • Well, propulsion and steering can be done by relatively normal methods, but navigation requires a precog. Otherwise at the speeds required for interstellar travel, by the time you see something you've already passed through it.
  • Ah, Snow Crash. Put on a pair of Cool Shades, and suddenly you're on the Street! Or build a gigantic tank for a cripple and steer it with voice commands.
  • Michael Scott's Gemini Game features the standard "big plug on the back of the neck" and headband-based videogame ports.
  • In the original Starship Troopers novel, the Mobile Infantry controls their Powered Armor by a variety of head and jaw motions, since their hands and limbs are occupied controlling the limbs of the armor. The limb controls were similar to the G Gundam Mobile Trace System mentioned above.
  • In one of the Starstormers series of young adult sf novels by Nicholas Fisk, the kids designed a weaponry interface that could be used by the ship's cat! It was essentially a variant on the traditional cat-toy of waving the shiny about and watching the cat jump at it, only the shiny was the display showing where the enemy ship was, and the cat was in a harness that transmitted its movements to the targeting systems.
    • Similarly, a short story in Cats in Space (And Other Places) had a scene with a cat defending a ship from aliens who had remotely incapacitated the human crew by leaping and batting at the screen, which the computer interpreted via telepathic interface. The series of well-intentioned mishaps that caused the ship to respect the cat's "orders" in the first place also caused the cat to receive its own paycheck. Plus danger expenses.
  • The entire Starship Bistromath in Douglas Adams' Life, the Universe and Everything is an unusual interface. It's a flying Bistro controlled and powered by dickering over the bill with the robotic crew.
  • E.W. Hildick's Ghost Squad novels featured an inversion of this trope. One of the main characters regularly used a word processor (with a regular keyboard) that he built himself. The inversion is that the protagonists were ghosts of young people, and they were severely limited in how they could interact with the physical world. The electronics whiz's affinity for his creation gave them a way to communicate with the living.
  • In Memory Prime, a Star Trek novel by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Spock interfaces directly with a network of sentient computers by shoving the wire leads through the tips of his fingers so that they make contact with his nervous system. In effect, he's mind-melding with the internet.
    • Hopefully not this Internet.
    • Others melded with that network on a regular basis; they had fingernail implants that played nicely with the sockets Spock jammed his hands into.
  • In the Wing Commander novel False Colors, Jason "Bear" Bondarevski is offered, by a Kilrathi assisting the UBW forces, the option of wiring his cybernetic arm (replacement for an injury from the Novelization of WC3, where he was commanding one of the destroyers escorting the TCS Victory that you occasionally escorted) so he can directly interface with his fighter, instead of the more conventional airplane-type interface. He declines the offer.
  • In Timothy Zahns Conqueror series (Conqueror's Pride, Conqueror's Heritage, and Conqueror's Legacy), the Copperheads were controlled through a jack in the back of the heads of the pilot and tail gunner, with the interface basically mapping the fighter's functions to a virtual human body. Damage is represented by pain, weapons by the user's fists, and so forth
  • Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency: The Regius Professor of Chronology uses an abacus to control his Time Machine. Since it's mentioned that literally anything placed in that particular spot will become the control system, this is actually one of the less bizarre options.
  • Neuromancer practically invented this trope, especially as regards the Cyberpunk genre.
    • Vernor Vinge's True Names and K.W.Jeter's Doctor Adder predated Neuromancer.
  • Tad Williams' Otherland Cyberpunk series describes a tremendous variety of methods used to interface with virtual reality environments: a plain old flat screen, 3D goggles (both with "squeezers" for input), a mechanical framework that you strap into, full-body immersion in a pressure-sensitive gel, and for the rich, a direct neural implant. Within the 'Net, a combination of hand gestures and speech form the "programming" language. And some users go so far as to have custom interfaces designed for them, whether out of personal idiosyncrasies or impatience.
  • In Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series, the Specials have this, as well as in the fourth book, Extras. In Extras, everyone has these.
  • In Skinned by Robin Wasserman, this is available to the general public, but most people don't have it.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, radios have gone from buttons and dials to touch-sensitive panels to a system where you wave a hand in its general direction and hope. It's not the most user-friendly interface out there.
  • Head jacks and neural splices in Lauren P Burka's short stories Mate and Whip-Hand.
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's novels The Stars Are Cold Toys and Star Shadow, the Geometer's ships can be controlled with a variety of methods, including speaking to the ship's AI, thinking to it, or simply putting your hands into containers filled with a gelatinous liquid called the "colloid actuator", which allows for a "meld" between the pilot and the craft.
  • Samuel R. Delany's Nova, published in 1968, featured a technology in which people had neural wrist- and neck-plugs installed so that they could control a wide variety of gadgets, from vacuum cleaners to starships. This style of interface was so pervasive that individuals who did not want to receive the implants were effectively unable to use any remotely sophisticated equipment.
  • In "The Rim of Space" by A. Bertram Chandler, the navigator of the ship the Lorn Lady controls it via a telepathic link to a dog brain wired into the ship's computer. In its down time, he rewards it with telepathic visions of trees and fire hydrants.
  • While the New Kashubia Series uses Cyberspace to pilot its weapons platforms they need cybernetics to access it, however what makes this unusual is that that part was thrown in at the last minute since everything else was already there tech-wise. Later the hero gets a Cool Chair so he also doesn't need to strip and float around in a goo pool.

Live Action TV

  • Cylons in the new Battlestar Galactica have two for the price of one. They can plug fiberoptic cable into their forearm to interface with computers (but they have to make an incision first) and they can interface with their own ships by putting their hands in a stream of water called the "datastream." The latter might be either electrical or biochemical transmitters, it's unclear but it sure looks cool! It helps that they're Artificial Humans.
    • You'd think the ability to plug a cable into your forearm could show up in a medical exam, but apparently not.
    • Humans also seem to interface well enough whenever putting their hands in this Cylon liquid. But perhaps this is facilitated by the hybrids always present in the bathtub in those instances.
  • Doctor Who episode "The Long Game" had people installing ports in their foreheads.
  • Farscape had Moya's controls be... empty grating. Seriously, look at the control panels, they're just empty spaces in metal frames with lights underneath. Pilot controlled all of Moya herself with a just a dozen huge buttons, but presumably his biological link to Moya helped a good deal.
    • Once the series' Action Girl (well one of them anyway) was able to control the ship after being infused with the pilot's DNA (the ship's pilot is part of a race whose only method of leaving their home planet is being bonded to Living Ships). The Pilot race's language is apparently complex enough to give a great deal of information in a single sentence, so perhaps only a few buttons are needed.
    • Of course, since Moya is alive, one wonders whether Pilot controls the ship, so much as negotiates with her. Frequently Pilot's role is to talk Moya out of something she wants to do.
  • In Stargate SG-1, human-form replicators can interface with technology (particularly Earth computers) by sticking a body part, usually a hand, directly into the machine. Apparently this also works on humans, as the human-form replicators can literally get inside their victim's heads (though it is not exactly painless for the victim).
    • It's curious though that the replicators generally go for the screen rather than the actual computer. But maybe the SGC was an all-iMac organisation?
    • Goa'uld ships are usually controlled by sticking your hands on a pair of big red orb-things and...then somehow you can drive the ship without doing anything else that's visible. Presumably it's a telepathic interface or something.
  • In Stargate Atlantis, a lot of Ancient and Wraith technology is operated by thinking at it.
    • Or in the case of the Asgard, moving identical rocks around to different, unlabeled circles on a panel. (Maybe just bad interface).
      • The workings of newer Ancient tech was explained as Ancients possessing a certain gene which caused the skin to secrete a special protein which acts as the interface between the user and the mind. Due to interbreeding, ordinary humans possess the gene as well, though it is extremely rare. Even if someone has the gene, it's "strength" varies; for example, many require seconds of intense concentration to even activate an Ancient control chair, yet Lt. Col. Sheppard can activate one by just sitting on it.
  • In Hyperdrive, ships are piloted by cyborg "Enhanced Humans." This seems to involve dancing in an alcove full of coloured lights. The plot of the first episode comes about, in part, because two bored bridge crew members try to come up with a sequence of manoeuvres that will make the cyborg fall out of her alcove.
  • In Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a first-season episode shows that John Connor is capable of connecting an advanced robot CPU chip into his computer (via a hot-swap SATA drive dock, no less) to read the memory files stored on the chip. He takes this one step farther when he uses the CPU chip of "good" Terminator Cameron to access the traffic mainframe of downtown Los Angeles in order to upload a virus to Skynet's "proto" nervous system. Given the fact that these chips are installed on machines being sent back in time, it actually makes sense that they would be built to be backwards compatible, if they were designed to interface with older systems.
    • It also makes sense that in a later episode Skynet starts sending back terminators with chips coated in phosphorous that burns the chip out as soon as it's removed, preventing these sorts of shenanigans.
      • Trying to reconcile both of these sense-making points may get you tangled up in a Timey-Wimey Ball, though.
  • Taelon shuttles in Earth: Final Conflict are piloted using a gesture based system, including a bow-and-arrow like move for firing the weapons. Similarly...
  • The Liandra from Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers has a gesture based weapon system, where the gunner floats in a virtual reality representation of the environment around the ship, and punches and kicks enemy vessels to fire at them. (Yes, this is as silly as it sounds.)
    • The White Star has very odd main controls in its early versions, although as it gets redesigned the controls become more normal. Even in the earliest version, though, there are some fairly ordinary control panels.
    • Sharlin class cruisers (otherwise known as Minbari War Cruisers) appeared to be commanded verbally. This is a very odd choice for a warship.
      • Most warships are commanded verbally. Minbari cruisers do have a normal crew who presumably operate the ship with more or less normal control interfaces, just not in the same room as the commander(s).
  • SeaQuest DSV had the HR (Hyper Reality) Probe, a vaguely crab-like ROV that the ship's engineer could operate by means of a VR headset and haptic gloves.
  • Willow freaks out her friends by accessing a computer database via touch (and magic) in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Smashed."
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Data was regularly plugging himself into various bits of the ship. Once they even attached just his head after his body was damaged and they had to leave it behind. The Starship Enterprise being saved by Data's disembodied head was Made of Funny.
    • Speaking of Star Trek: TNG, you kids today may be all jaded and stuff, but those touch screen Okudagrams on the Enterprise were freaking awesome in 1987. The rest of the ship's interior may have looked like the lobby of the Knoxville Days Inn but I wanted one of those control panels in the worst way.
      • Just remember to take the fireworks out first.
    • An episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has characters decades in the future having trouble adapting to the Defiant's antiquated interface, being used to a three-dimensional projection.
    • In the Voyager finale, Janeway returns from decades in the future to change the present, and she is implanted with a standard issue neural computer interface from the future.
      • There's another episode where Tom Paris gets too close to an alien shuttle with a neural interface.
    • One episode of Deep Space Nine featured a guest character with a data port behind her ear, which she could use to bypass security systems. The dialogue made it sound as though they were relatively freely available... which only raises questions about why we never saw one again.
    • The Hirogen ships' interface works looks like sticking metal toothpicks into a gigantic sphere.
    • In some cases (particularly in TNG), computers were reprogrammed by rearranging "isolinear chips" (which are large plastic rectangles), which seems an odd way to write a program.
    • The Borg can also do this with there assimilation tubes, though it's rarely shown, it also apparently works on non-Borg technology.
  • Zyuranger / MMPR: Burai / Tommy remote controls Dragon Caesar / DragonZord by playing notes on his dagger, which other characters call a "flute" (even though it sounds like a trumpet). He only ever uses two note sequences for all of the various things this mech can do.
    • The 2nd tune usually orders the Dragonzord to fire his finger missiles. The first tune seems akin to pressing the gas pedal. It activates the Dragonzord and also makes get back in a fight when it's getting the bejesus beaten out of it. The Dragonzord also apparently answers to vocal commands (how it can hear them is anyone's guess... Commlink maybe?), as its various transformations are simply shouted out. And in Power Rangers Dino Thunder, Tommy never uses the similar tool that was a "Dino Harp" in sentai despite the obvious homage potential.
    • Zen-Aku also has musically-controlled Zords.
    • Dr. K of Power Rangers RPM can control the entire lab via her violin.
    • Some of the Megazords seem to be directed by the Rangers waving their hands over [insert cool object here].
      • Sometimes not even by waving over anything, but simply getting the Megazord to do a finishing move by what can only be described as synchronized arm dancing. They would basically Macarena a monster to death.
    • One incredibly unintuitive system had the Rangers sitting in little pods on a checkered surface, and directing the Megazord by way of chess moves. In the heat of battle.
  • On the Land of the Lost series, pylons were controlled by arranging different colors of crystal on a glowing grid at the top of a stone pedestal. This was made insanely difficult by the sheer number of possible combinations of colors, as well as the tendency of crystals to blow up, get hot, generate force fields, or whatever if they actually came into contact with one another. (But then, if it was easy to operate the portal-opening pylon, the Marshalls could've just camped out inside it for a few days until they triggered a portal leading home.)
  • In Cosmos, Carl Sagan controlled his dandelion-seed-shaped "Spaceship of the Imagination" by waving his hands over a control panel embedded with quartz crystals with colored lights shining through them.
  • In Andromeda, Seamus Harper had a dataport in the side of his neck, which allowed him to plug into, and interface with computer systems.
  • In Jake 2.0, Jake has nanites that allow him to control computers with his brain.

Tabletop Games

  • Shadowrun and nearly every work of Cyberpunk has the datajack, a port or wire usually somewhere on the side of the head to hook up to a computer. A cyberpunk character who can't "jack in" with a port in their head is not trying hard enough.
    • Later games, however, have caught up with WiFi and made wireless the prime mode of interaction with the Internet. People still have ports in their head that connect to the web, they just don't require the cables.
    • Don't forget the Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality interfaces, which can look like anything the user wants it to. A Node's Operating system could very well just look like a library, with each book representing a program. There's no limiting the weirdness.
  • The 'mechs from BattleTech are controlled by a combination of manual controls, like joysticks and pedals for targetting and gross movement, and and a neurological link with the mech to provide more precise control and to a sense of balance. The neurolink is one of the few non-invasive types; instead of cutting into people's brains and adding datajacks, it's just a helmet that presses on a few spots where it can connect to the nervous system. This doesn't require anything more invasive than the pilot keeping those spots free of hair, and calibrating the helmets when fitting a new mechwarrior.
    • The novels based on the tabletop game give the Clan Elementals another system to make up for the lack of buttons to push. Their weapons fire when they put their hands in certain positions, and they turn things on and off by the "glance system," where their viewport has a series of icons above and below it. To activate the icon, the Elemental just looks at it for a moment. They also apparently use modified versions of the neurolinking systems.
    • Battletech does have invasive cybernetic control systems however. That being said, said systems are every rare, cutting edge technology. They also have a tendency to drive the user insane after a few years, if not kill them out right
  • More advanced Warhammer 40,000 vehicles and war machines are often plugged directly into the pilot's brain. In a rather low-tech way.
    • The control systems of Titans includes a system that the command crew are linked to by wires that enter the brain through the edges of the eye socket.
    • Many techpriests also connect to computer systems in this manner. Not to mention all the prayers, chanting and burning of incense that accompanies any machine/user interface in Warhammer 40K, which certainly is 'unusual', if not exactly in the manner described by the trope.
      • This actually appears to be a standard piece of equipment for people who regularly works on computers, according to the literature from Dan Abnett
    • Techpriests can also attempt to "appease the machine spirit," a sort of innate A.I./machine soul, by using unguents, oils, and the aforementioned incense. How effective (or logical) this is is often minimal, but sometimes the machine (in ten or twelve pieces with half of its programming deleted) will get up and KILL STUFF to the best of its abilities.
    • They also have the noosphere, an augmented reality bionic eye that can let you see data and boosts your programming skills tenfold simply by warrant of being able to use your hands and mind to do so.
    • The Eldar have a slightly much cleaner version of this whereby technology is controlled by psychic manipulation. Also worth noting are the Wraithlords and Wraithguard, war "golems" that are controlled directly by a deceased Eldar soul embedded in the machine.
      • Eldar Titans have to be controlled by telepathically-linked identical twins (or triplets for the larger ones). Given their species' low birth rate, these incredibly powerful war machines are, thankfully (for their enemies), quite rare.
        • Wrong. Eldar titans are controlled by a single Eldar held in a coma and linked directly to the titan. Twins are simply remarked as being much better for multi-pilot vehicles (such as vypers) than non-twins.
    • The Sisters of Battle have the best though. The Exorcist tank is a missile launch platform that looks a lot like an organ. The missiles are launched by a Battle Sister in front of a keyboard, playing devotional music that also causes explosions.
      • This makes a great pun if regard the following: The katyusha rocket launcher trucks used by the soviets during WW 2 were called Stalinorgel (Stalin's Organ, as in Stalin's huge pipe-based musical instrument) in German. I wonder if GW knew about this...
      • Given than many of GW's designers are Tread Heads (Tank fans) and have mentioned an interest in second world war era technology in the past it does seem likely.
      • It could also be a pun on the medieval "ribauldequin" or organ gun.
    • Many walker units are like this as well.
      • Dreadnoughts are also mentionable, since you have to be pretty close to dead, and have had to have done something pretty epic just prior, or have been in a very good standing within their force to justify being placed in one. The Dreadnought is equal parts Walking Tank and life support for the pilot. For the Loyaist Marines, this is seen as one of the greatest privileges that they can achieve. For different reasons, the Chaos Marines see being in a dreadnought as something that is less than pleasant.
      • Ork Killa Kanz and Deff Dreddz are just like dreadnoughts, except for being ramshackle and "orkier" in design, the pilots are all volunteer, and they are permanently hardwired into the machine (whereas dreanought pilots' sarcophagi can be removed from the dreadnought when they're not in use). Gretchen tend to take a liking to piloting the Kan, while Orks tend to resent the day-to-day existence inside of a Deff Dredd (having to eat meals through a mechanical straw, for example), but they tend to forget their qualms when they're shredding though power armored infantry like butter.
      • Other examples that fit the trope are the Dark Eldar Talos, which is actually run by an autonomous AI, but has a tortured slave inside powering the Talos with his agony. The aforementioned Eldar Wraithguard and Wraithlords, of course. The Defiler which is a Walking Tank possessed by a daemon, and the Soulgrinder takes the defiler up a step by including a waist-up daemon mounted onto the machine's legs.
    • The most Egregious is the Witchhunters' Penitent Engine, essentially a person, usually one acquitted of heresy, is brainwashed, dressed in a bed sheet and crucified to a chassis that moves on a fast pair of legs, and equipped with arms that are equipped with buzzsaws and flamethrowers. Their only reason from that point is to redeem themselves by being forced to fight for the Emperor as a suicide unit. A big, nasty suicide unit.
    • Let's not forget the always fun and exciting passages through the warp. The Navigator, a human mutant who has a third eye capable of seeing in the warp, sits in a chair that he is literally wired into (including a tube that deposits saline capsules into his mouth to prevent him from dehydrating), which is then raised into a transparent hemisphere on the surface of the ship, where he pilots the vessel as it travels through hell. The only navigational landmark for him to use is the Astronomican, and eldritch horrors that would drive a normal person insane constantly gnash and throw themselves at the vessel, kept at bay only the Gellar Field which the ship generates for (relative) safe passage through the warp. The results of a ship's Gellar Field failing are, to put it lightly, rather unpleasant.
  • Cthulhu Tech: Engels. see Neon Genesis Evangelion above, without the Synchronization, but with more invasive surgery and SAN checks.
  • The "multisensory holographic work station" from GURPS: Ultra-Tech can be set to communicate with the user by using holograms, ultrasonics, infrared light, ultraviolet light and smells.


  • Final Fantasy X-2's Big Bad had a buglike Humongous Mecha called Vegnagun, and like its name would suggest, it had a BFG built into its mouth. Now how do you suspect something like that would be controlled? Why, with a gigantic pipe organ, of course!
  • Deus Ex mentions an occipital [1] jack in one in game news article and an in game email, based on the context of the news article (The fact that a teenage girl has one is mentioned alongside having a tattoo and wearing black) these are looked upon negatively.
    • And based on the email, the game it recommends trying the demo of claims "fireballs burn your face, walls hurt when you hit them" this is not exactly unreasonable to be a taboo.
      • On the other hand, Mission Control Alex Jacobson, the person the mail is addressed too, is perfectly fine, physically and mentally.
      • Denton himself can usually be considered an Unusual User Interface all by himself, since Icarus eventually manages to hack his brain, and he can do this with his nanotechnology that just doesn't make sense in a real-world equivalency.
  • While most Forerunner devices are activated via Holographic Terminals, the terminals seen in Halo Wars and Halo Legends are activated by touching a big sphere covered in glyphs. It's interesting to note that, since humans are Reclaimers and the technology is destined for them, the spheres will self-trigger and align themselves when touched by a human.
  • Pretty much the entire point of the Half Life 2 mod Dystopia. The players can jack into a 3D interpretation of a computer by mentally connecting to the computer through the cyberdeck in their heads. Of course, since they are putting their own minds inside the machine, they leave their real bodies vulnerable to attack.
  • In EVE Online, players fly their ships by being inside a pod full of goo with a neural interface which connects to the ship's systems and can easily be transferred between ships as well as ejected in the case of the ship's destruction (and if it is destroyed, a neural scan allows the player's mind to be transferred to a clone maintained at a station to cheat death). The interface allows a single person to control all of the ship's systems on any ship from a shuttle to a 20 km long titan, with much faster reactions and better control than a human crew manually controlling it could have (NPC ships are controlled by crews, and with the exception of CONCORD, are relatively weak).
    • There is debate about whether ships flown by pod pilots actually have any crew at all or have completely automated systems, but it is normally accepted that smaller ships have none, while large ships have significantly smaller crews than would be needed without a pod pilot.
      • One of the Chronicles confirms that a Apocalypse battleship has over two thousand crew who go down with the ship.
    • The Mothership in Homeworld operates in exactly the same way: single person in a pod (Fleet Control) and a living crew.
  • The massive Gundam-esque 'Combots' in Metal Fatigue used an unusual hybrid of conventional controls and what appeared to be a kind of motion-capture pedestal. They were crewed by two to five individuals, one of whom acted as the main 'pilot' by standing on the pedestal, their movements being converted to movements taken by the combot itself (in one cutscene, a pilot holds a hand to the side of his head whilst using a communications link - the combot is shown mimicking the movement. Considering they have large weapons attached to these arms, one hopes they don't get an urge to scratch themselves too often...) and the rest operate generic looking consoles.
  • System Shock. It actually makes sense from the player's perspective, but that's where it falls apart: you have a mouse. Your hacker character doesn't. How does all that information get transmitted to the character? How does he turn on and turn off his various upgrades? And most important of all, how does the multi-view tactical display work? Does he just get all schizophrenic or what?
  • Sigma Star Saga has the aliens interface with their techno-organic spaceships via the full-body parasites that they wear. The parasite-ship connection is such that a patrolling ship can instantly teleport the nearest parasite-wearing person into their hull in order to take command.
  • The controls for playing The World always involve a PlayStation controller, a keyboard, and a headset, the latter being the unusual part. It simulates a three-dimensional environment in the game (from the view point of the character, maybe) and three dimensional sound and responds to both head and eye movement. It also operates neurally, though the degree is unspoken as it isn't made a big deal until The World R:2. A fair guess is that most people playing the game assume their character's gestures are procedurally generated. The real kicker, for series fans, is that the neural aspect does not factor into the cause of the coma victims/Lost Ones at all.
  • Inverted in Mass Effect 3 for Javik; ordinary user interfaces are strange and confusing to him, as well as inefficient (Intercoms? Typing out words by hand? Primitives!) He instead prefers to communicate through direct knowledge transference via touch, and controlling systems through some kind of water-based interface.


  • Similar to the Terminator example above, Schlock Mercenary shows resident Mad Scientist Kevyn Andreyasn sneaking data past his guards by playing it as audio, modem-style, to an AI on the other end of the communications link.
    • There are implants - fairly common "bone phone" and (less common) optical nerve connectors (some of which work both ways). And then there's field diagnostic interface of soldier-boosts.
    • The comics' events unfold in the age of early (for humanity and associated species, anyway) brain nanomachines. Technologies developed for Brain Uploading found other uses, including secure communication. Amorphs exchange pieces of themselves (they evolved from memory storage systems), so Fleetmind developed an "amorph goo reader".
    • Kevyn's blood-nannies AI had to circumvent this, because they didn't yet fully restore brain interface, and had to keep him functional enough to set his bones. The result: skin screen. Later he ended up looking at the world through a targeting reticle (for an implanted weapon).
    • Kowalski as seen while working wears gadgets on his head. Of course, the latter are more of broadband relays/convertors - the immediate interface consists of nanobots inside his brain.
    • The ancient Oafa had nanobots recording their memories on metal storage medium and presumably used brain interface too.
  • Girl Genius has The Throne of Faustus Heterodyne. It can be reasonably described as creepy.
    • Master of Paris also used to plug into city network directly (some of his descendants also have sockets implanted, at least Colette have limited control, despite not having "broken through" into Mad Scientist yet).
    • Earlier in the series, Agatha uses a modified pipe organ to control her army of clanks.
  • You could see Ping from Megatokyo as an Unusual User Interface. She's a gynoid made by Sony as an accessory for playing Dating Sims.
  • The Cool Car driven by Gene Catlow and Catswhisker can be driven normally... or by thought. The latter method, however, proves difficult to operate.
  • Terinu has the old "port in the head" method of cybernetic interface, but it's limited to expensive and specialized "Cybergliders" who run the risk of eventual brain damage even before you add in encountering hostile ICE. Everyone else sticks to either voice commands or keyboards.
  • Kimiko Ross from Dresden Codak has a jack in her upper back.
  • Xkcd shows us that some people are not going to wait for these interfaces to go mainstream.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob: The default language on dragon computers is Chaucerian English. Molly, being an omnidisciplinary scholar, can read it with ease. "Hey! You got those funny s's that look like lowercase f's! Giggle!"
  • Bedivere in the Space Arc of Arthur, King of Time and Space has an I/O jack replacing his her missing hand. Largely for the sake of a pun.
  • Pip from Sequential Art has a recurring nightmare about this.
  • The David Hopkins webcomic Rework the Dead has the "purple light system" which allows species without limbs to use technology simply by looking at the control the want to operate and blinking
  • Sinfest has fun with specialized game controllers. Behold the power of Wii PitchforkTM(R), Wii Crucifix, Wii Vandal aerosol can (for Graffiti Hero), Wii Scythe... and... er... Wii Pimp Cane.
  • Cwynhild from Cwynhild's Loom can wirelessly access computer systems through her artificial right hand. She can also send electrical pulses through it, and it can fool DNA scanners by sending out false DNA signatures.
  • God Mode on "WiiTF!?"
  • Sluggy Freelance had Torg proposing a possible use for Hogtendo SuuWii "hands-free motion control". 3 pages later, Gwynn uses it in an unconventional way to play tennis. And boys are watching.
  • Turn Signals on a Land Raider has a Dance Dance Revolution machine installed as a replacement control interface on "Iron Death" (a very old Land Raider). See the next pages for how this works.

Web Original

  • In the Whateley Universe, more than one deviser goes with the datajack. Techno-Devil has a shaved mullet, with an exposed datajack on each side of his head. Jericho has one as well. Merry doesn't even need that much (she just has to be near a fast CPU hooked up to the internet, and her mind can literally dive into cyberspace). Since that is in fact her mutant power it may be debatable if it fully counts for this trope, but it's the closest thing to the 'cyberspace experience' depicted in the various stories so far.
    • For another example of 'unusual interface', Samantha Everheart used to have the nanotech-based AI known as 'Hive' in her body until very recently (nowadays it's more like it is her body). For the most part, the two would just 'talk' to each other in her head, but every so often there was sensory feedback. And yes, the nanites in turn could interface with other communication and computer systems.

Western Animation

  • In South Park, Mr. Garrison's wheel car invention....Let's not get into that...
    • Typically enough, the *ahem* unusual interface was unnecessary and only for Mr Garrison's personal liking.
    • For the sake of clarity, Mr. Garrison's invention consists of a single, large wheel that you can drive by sitting on a phallic "seat" (ouch) in the wheel, and you maneuver and control it by sucking on a phallic object while you shift the two phallic levers below it up and down... penis.
  • The pilots in Exo Squad control their E-Frames with cyberjacks mounted at the base of their skulls, although they're also shown using an optical targeting system - the crosshairs follow the movement of the pilot's eye, and they "pull the trigger" basically by winking.
  • Megas XLR is a Humongous Mecha piloted from a 1970s Plymouth Barracuda with a heavily modified dashboard. What do you do if you want to go faster? You step on the gas. Need to know how much energy is still available? Check the fuel gauge. Want to fire a more powerful laser? Turn on the high beams. Diving in molten magma? Turn on the A/C.
    • In addition to the steering and pedals, the car-robot came equipped with no less than seven video game controllers: the Atari joystick, the NES controller, Genesis, SNES, PlayStation, a Dance Dance Revolution pad, and just for good times, a microphone. Alongside that, buttons that changed function as the plot required ("Missiles," "More Missiles," "All Da Missiles!," "5 Minutes Until End Of Episode," and "Didn't He Just Push This Button Five Seconds Ago?"), and you've got a car that only Coop can drive. Literally: Kiva tries to take control of Megas and fails miserably.
  • Transformers use keyboards. Why is that an Unusual User Interface? Because Transformers are robots who have been repeatedly shown to be able to interface with a computer by just plugging into it. You'd think it would be their favorite mode of computer control... But no.
    • In the new "Transformers: Animated" series, Soundwave first shows up with Laserbeak, an electric guitar (that turns into a bird) that controls the Autobots' mind when he plays it. During his second appearance he's upgraded to Ratbat, a keytar (that turns into a bat) he uses to reprogram them. It seems to take a while; he ends up standing around in the sewer for a while rocking out.
    • In Beast Wars, some of the transformers had keyboards inserted into their forearms that sort of met halfway between the two methods (it actually superficially resembled the use of the small keypad on a Nintendo Glove). In Beast Machines, Megatron had a special throne interface complete with Helmet and Hover-Chair that was connected to the planet's networks through ceiling cords.
  • Played for Laughs in a Futurama episode that parodies Minority Report; the police's Future Crimes computer is made of giant holographic screens manipulated by hand. To focus you make binocular motions in front of your face and to rewind you do the Cabbage Patch.

Real Life

  • Text messaging, specifically on phones that don't have keyboards. Unless u cn typ in txtspk, you use a twelve-button telephone keypad and a predictive writing system to type out complicated sentences telling your friends what club you're at or who Brittany and Amber are hooking up with.
  • The Nintendo Wii.
    • Before that, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. You make a gorilla jump, swing, grab fruit and and headbutt giant bird eggs by beating on a pair of bongos and clapping your hands.
    • Before the debut of the Nintendo64, there were jokes being passed around that the controller was in fact a glob of jelly that could read the electrical impulses from your brain through your fingertips.
    • Before that, there was the Powerglove.

Angry Video Game Nerd (quoting The Wizard (film)): "I love the Powerglove. It's so bad."

    • Before... well, a little after that, there was the Sega Activator.
    • Not to mention U-Force.
    • And the Atari 2600 had the Joyboard.
    • Uh, guys, Breakout had a rotary dial controller in 1976. Noobs.
    • Feh, you've all missed it. Gotcha had breast-shaped controllers in 1973. Take That!
  • Mechanisms facilitating telephone usage by the deaf or computer usage by the blind.
  • 3D mice used for CAD applications. Also, any positioning device integrated in a laptop will be quite unusual until you get used to it.
    • For the first twenty years after its invention, the regular mouse qualified.
    • Graphics tablets probably also qualify, especially as you have to relearn some hand-eye coordination in order to use them. Of course, the point of them is that they provide a control method that is more like pen and paper, and is much more natural and intuitive for photo-editing/digital illustration.
  • Not sure if it counts, but a man got a USB memory drive installed in his artificial finger.
  • Various 'unusual' interfaces exist the allow people with disabilities to interface with computers, or their wheel chairs, or other people. The most unusual of all would probably have to be a tube in the mouth manipulated by the tongue.
    • MouseTrap by Flavio Percoco Premoli. It's a motion-tracking software allowing to use a webcam tracking head movement instead of a mouse. Gnome version is in Linux distributions for years, and there are clones.
  • A number of different Brain-computer interfaces have actually been developed for the disabled and gaming. Hasbro's Force trainer is one of the latter. Most commercial versions are non-invasive and actually read subtle changes in your scalp rather than actual brainwaves.
  • The DataHand keyboard.
  • The Kinect motion controller for the Xbox 360 was hacked within days of its release to allow it to be used as a multitouch interface with PCs, including Apple and Linux machines.
  • The PlayStation Move is a close relative of the Wiimote.
  • The peregrine probably counts.
  • Everyone has their own preference for control, and if you are accustomed to using a mouse but sit down at someone's compute that has the touchpad or a trackball can be confusing.
  • The Theremin. See the Other Wiki if you don't know what one is.
  • To be correct, the entire computer history fits perfectly. Let's look.
    • The first revolution was command mode: a computer answered with typing machine to requests, typed with keyboard. Before this most interaction was done using punched cards
    • The second revolution was computer terminals: a keyboard and a screen with block of text and pseudographics.
    • The third revolution was GUI using mouse
    • Now, the forth revolution is in making: small touch screens have become more reliable, then keyboards are: touch screens have no moving parts, unlike mouse and keyboards, and can be made reinforced for industrial applications. They are too costly yet to replace keyboard+mouse pair completely and fast typing interface is still to emerge.
    • And here, we have not noted any special input devices, lake gamepads. Expect more to come.
  • The AH64 Apache gunship. Ed Macy, a British Apache pilot who operated in Afghanistan, explained in his book Apache that flying the gunship is like (paraphrased) trying to play an Xbox, and Playstation, and a Grandmaster in chess at the same time, while riding a rollercoaster. The sheer amount of incoming data from the Apache's complex systems demands that a pilot train themselves to move their eyes independently and comprehend data from each eye separately. This results in massive headaches for the pilot (because s/he essentially has to forcibly rewire a brain oriented toward forward observation) and takes at least a year of constant training to become proficient at. But it lets you read two books at the same time and understand them!
  1. bone in the back of the skull