Back in its heyday the Xbox 360 controller was widely regarded as one of the best of its kind, with the exception of its dodgy D-pad.
Roll on a 12 years and the venerable controller has been replaced by the updated Xbox One controller, with its rumbling triggers and refined design. But the US Navy is clearly a fan of the 360’s ergonomics and design, with The Virginian-Pilot reporting that the controllers are being used in one of the Navy’s most advanced nuclear submarines to rotate the sub’s periscope.
On older submarines, the periscope would use traditional rotating tube mechanisms limited to one person using them at any time; very much in the fashion movies like The Hunt for Red October portrayed periscope action.
More modern submarines use photonic based periscopes that have mast-mounted digital cameras to provide a surface view. These periscopes have previously been controlled with a custom joystick that sets the Navy back some $38,000 a pop and require rigorous training to use.
By replacing the joystick control with an Xbox 360 controller, the Navy’s new submarine has a periscope control system that’s a fraction of the price of the joystick. And it’s easier to learn, particularly if seamen have been avid gamers between 2005 and 2013.
“I can go to any video game store and procure an Xbox controller anywhere in the world, so it makes a very easy replacement,” Senior Chief Mark Eichenlaub, assistant navigator on the USS John Warner submarine, told The Virginian-Pilot.
It’s not the first time Xbox 360 controllers have cropped up in the military world. Footage from forward-operating camps in the likes of Afghanistan have shown the controllers being used to manoeuvre weapons and drones, including a US Army prototype laser gun designed to shoot down shells and drones.
It makes sense that various military organisations would want to tap into the skills gamers have developed, but we can’t help wonder why the US Navy went for Xbox 360 controllers and not Xbox One or even the equally capable PlayStation 4 controllers.
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