US Navy launches submarine with gamepad-guided periscope

The gaming device maneuvers the sub's modern periscopes.

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Matt Brian/Engadget
Matt Brian/Engadget

The Navy's fourth USS Colorado attack submarine has recently gone into service with an Xbox controller onboard. No, not so sailors can play Overwatch: they'll actually be using the gaming device to steer the vehicle's two photonics masts, which you can think of as high-tech replacements for typical periscopes. The masts don't require periscope tubes to work and rely on high-res cameras to capture images to display on a big screen instead. When the military first announced that it's using an Xbox controller on the Colorado, it said the device was replacing the joystick and control panel Lockheed Martin originally designed for the sensors.

The original controls would've cost the Navy around $38,000, which is a ton of money to spend on a system that sailors found clunky and difficult to use. So, Lockheed Martin subbed them with controllers during the trial phase and found that operators were able to figure out how to maneuver the high-tech periscopes using the devices within just a few minutes. The Navy now doesn't have to spend extra for training -- and controllers only cost $30 a pop.

Now that the Colorado is an official naval asset, the US Navy will be using the 377-foot-long sub to conduct surveillance and to fight off enemy submarines and surface ships. It's the only attack submarine that uses an Xbox controller right now, but it won't be the last: the Navy plans to equip all modernized Virginia-class subs with one in the future.

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