xbox controller for periscope (Lockheed Martin)

Xbox controllers guide sub's periscope

The Navy is taking a cue from the gaming world and using Xbox controllers to manipulate the periscopes on submarines.

Unlike the tube-shaped periscopes of the past, today's submarines use photonic masts with high-resolution cameras that display images of what is going on above the water on multiple screens throughout the sub. The Navy is replacing specially designed joysticks that had been used to manipulate the masts with the game controllers.

One of the reasons the Navy opted for the Xbox controllers is cost.

Senior Chief Mark Eichenlaub, the USS John Warner’s assistant navigator, told The Virginian-Pilot that it will be much easier to replace an Xbox controller.

“That joystick is by no means cheap, and it is only designed to fit on a Virginia-class submarine,” Eichenlaub said. “I can go to any video game store and procure an Xbox controller anywhere in the world, so it makes a very easy replacement.”

Besides the huge cost advantage, sailors were able to pick up the Xbox controller and understand it within minutes, unlike the hours of training it took to understand the joystick, according to Lockheed Martin, which helped the Navy develop this alternative.

Millions of Xbox gaming consoles have been sold since its release 15 years ago, creating a generation full of people adept at manipulating the controller's buttons, triggers and thumbsticks.

This solution was developed at Lockheed Martin’s “Area 51,” where the company and Navy researchers test commercial hardware and software -- like game controllers, touch screens and Google Earth -- can advance systems on Los Angeles and Virginia-class submarines.

The controllers will be deployed on Virginia-class subs starting in November with the USS Colorado, the Virginian-Pilot reported.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.

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