The same Xbox controller which is used to play games is also being used to direct the Navy’s attack submarine now. For a lot of years, the only way for sailors inside a submarine to look at the world above them was the use of a Periscope. It was used to determine the position of the submarine and even to direct torpedoes in the days before the sonar arrived. But periscope has its cons.
In 2004, the Navy started commissioning the submarines with photonics masts, devices equipped with sensors that operate like a digital periscope. It was operated from the control room using a joystick, but people were still not satisfied with it. Kyle Leonard, a Lieutenant, said, “The Navy got together and they asked a bunch of J.O.s and junior guys, ‘What can we do to make your life better? And one of the things that came out is the controls for the scope. It’s kind of clunky in your hand; it’s really heavy.”
To get rid of the problem, Navy decided to use the Xbox controllers. The sailors are more comfortable with the lighter and more versatile controller. It is also very natural for them to use it. Since many sailors have played games on an Xbox before enlisting, they also don’t require much training for it. It is also saving Navy a huge sum of money. A custom built photonic mast joystick costs around $38,000. However, an Xbox 360 controller costs only $30.
The USS Colorado is the first submarine to use Xbox controllers from the very beginning of its service. However, if this system works successfully, Xbox controllers will be seen in a lot of submarines later on.