The U.S. Navy is using Xbox 360 controllers to operate submarine periscopes

The question of the ultimate video game controller is always a source of spirited debate — does Sony’s Dual Shock 4 have the edge over the competition? Are a keyboard and mouse the way to go? Now, the U.S. Navy has made its stance clear, as it’s set to implement Microsoft’s Xbox 360 pad across its fleet of Virginia-class submarines.

The Xbox 360 controller will be used to operate periscopes, which were previously manipulated with a joystick, according to Pilot Online. If you are wondering why these periscopes need such a nuanced method of control, it’s because they’re not the simple versions you might recognize from movies and television shows.

The periscopes used on Virginia-class submarines are comprised of two photonics masts, each of which is able to rotate 360 degrees. They are outfitted with high-resolution cameras that output their images to large displays so that everyone in the room can see what’s being observed — but the method of controlling where they are looking using a joystick wasn’t particularly popular among operators.

The joystick that was previously in use was described by junior officers and sailors as “clunky” and “real heavy.” As a result, officials began to test out whether the Xbox 360 controller could sub in for the equipment.

The biggest advantage that the gamepad holds over its predecessor is the fact that many operators are already familiar with how to use it from their prior experience playing video games. It would take novices hours of practice before they were considered to be adept at using the joystick.

There are also benefits in terms of cost and accessibility. If a replacement pad needs to be procured, it’s available at retail outlets worldwide and it costs around $30, rather than the $38,000 price tag that was attached to the joystick and its control panel.

The Navy has already been testing the Xbox 360 controller in this context for two years, to make sure that it is up to the job. It’s expected to be officially implemented for the first time on the USS Colorado, which should be commissioned by November, before being rolled out across other Virginia-class submarines as part of the service’s ongoing modernization effort.

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