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Navy Plans To Use Xbox 360 Controllers For New Periscope Systems Aboard Its Submarines (go.com) 121

According to ABC News, the U.S. Navy is planning to use Xbox 360 controllers to operate periscopes aboard its most advanced submarines. High-resolution cameras and large monitors are replacing the traditional rotating periscope in the Navy's Virginia-class subs. While they can be controlled by a helicopter-style stick, the Navy plans to integrate an Xbox controller into the system because they're more familiar to younger sailors and require less training. They are also considerably cheaper. The controller typically costs less than $30 compared to the $38,000 cost of a photonic mast handgrip and imaging control panel. The Xbox controller will be included as part of the integrated imaging system for Virginia-class subs beginning with the future USS Colorado. It is supposed to be commissioned by November.
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Navy Plans To Use Xbox 360 Controllers For New Periscope Systems Aboard Its Submarines

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  • On Screen (Score:4, Funny)

    by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @07:07PM (#55222743)
    make it so
  • Think of the savings!

    They should steer the boat with another controller. Run the reactor with a third.

    • No way, an XBOX controller might work for those amateurs in the navy, but the Airforce master race will accept no substitute to keyboard and mouse.

  • Surplus Xbox 360 controllers are getting pretty cheap these days....

    Of course, you know the ruggedized military version will cost 4 figures each and half will end up broken in the TV lounge by sailors playing 688 Attack Sub on the Xbox 360.

    • ... sailors playing 688 Attack Sub on the Xbox 360.

      Is that... is that an inception joke? I can't tell anymore.

      Let me out! LET ME OUT!

  • by mikael ( 484 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @07:28PM (#55222839)

    Up Down Up Down Left Left Right Right Up Down

    • I'm disappointed someone at Slashdot doesn't know the Konami Code by heart. It's Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start.

      I did a quick search to see if your code was an obscure reference to something else (since I like to give three-digit UIDs the benefit of the doubt), but so far I haven't found anything.

  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @07:29PM (#55222847)
    Now I won't be selected to join the Navy.
  • Probably what they mean is XBox-like controllers. Hardened for military use... Let's see, $25,000 apices? That sounds reasonable...

    • Re:Perhaps... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RightwingNutjob ( 1302813 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @07:37PM (#55222881)
      You're laughing, but that 25k (nominally) pays for the following to not happen:

      I have a 25 dollar Logitech joystick. For reasons I'll not go into, it's plugged into something that displays the nominal joystick position on a screen. Once every week or three, I come in to see the joystick sitting dead center but the position display showing it's full-tilt back and to the left because their the joystick, the USB controller it's plugged into, or the kernel module that talks to it hickuped. I nudge the stick with my carefully calibrated index finger and it rehomes itself and the display goes back to normal.

      For what I'm doing, it's a nuisance that's to be expected with cheapo toys that use a plastic comb to interrupt an LED and two photodiodes to make an incremental encoder in the two axes. If it's got a million-dollar photonics mast plugged into it, I might spend some time and use multiply-redundant potentiometers with noise-immune readout circuits to give absolute positions. And I'd spend some time and energy doing all the engineering design, and testing, and etc etc to prove that the finished article won't hickup like that for the life of the device. It might cost my customer about 25k per unit to have that level of assurance.
      • Optical diffraction grating encoders. Good to about a thou.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 18, 2017 @08:04PM (#55223003)

        "Once every week or three, I come in to see the joystick sitting dead center but the position display showing it's full-tilt back and to the left..."

        It's because it keeps watching that JFK documentary.

      • by quenda ( 644621 )

        I might spend some time and use multiply-redundant potentiometers with noise-immune readout circuits to give absolute positions

        Or you could just fix it in software. Easier to both design and test that way.

        Using consumer hardware makes a whole lot more sense than using Microsoft Windows [slashdot.org].

        • Re:Perhaps... (Score:4, Informative)

          by Whatsisname ( 891214 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @11:02PM (#55223529) Homepage

          You can just "fix it in software" the same way you can fix a mouse with a post-it over the sensor in software: you can't.

          • You can just "fix it in software" the same way you can fix a mouse with a post-it over the sensor in software: you can't.

            You can fix the problem of sensor smoothing in software, and you can fix the problem of sensor failure with redundancy. So yes, you can effectively fix the problem in software.

            • Redundant sensors sounds more like hardware to me.
              • Redundant sensors sounds more like hardware to me.

                Not redundant sensors, redundant devices. You just throw new controllers at the problem if the old ones fail. These devices are actually shockingly reliable and surprisingly repairable, though. Granted, that is hardware. But what makes it possible to use such a fix is software. And part of the fix is software, specifically accounting for crappy sticks. Actually, even the controller does some of that, but it doesn't necessarily do enough.

            • You can just "fix it in software" the same way you can fix a mouse with a post-it over the sensor in software: you can't.

              You can fix the problem of sensor smoothing in software, and you can fix the problem of sensor failure with redundancy. So yes, you can effectively fix the problem in software.

              Not necessarily - it all depends on your use-case. For the periscope...may be.

              I've done optical encoders before, and we had an expensive part that received the signal - could take 4 of them - made by GE. The part was something like $1k; however, in certain scenarios when 2 were plugged in, the part would hiccup and we'd get a bad read where 1 of 3 bytes (for a 24-bit value) would be for the *next* read not the current read. However, the system was sensitive enough that this was a *big* problem. My only s

      • Yep, people are always asking why aviation software costs so much. It isn't the development cost it is the verification and validation cost. MCDC coverage (see link below) for the most stringent level of testing requires a lot of test development for each software module. This isn't even all the work. The company needs to define exactly what the software needs to do, preferably before the software is written, so that tests confirm the software is doing what it should do, not simply verifying the program

      • by Shotgun ( 30919 )

        Why? Why invest that much effort into the controller? The position indicator would be the friggin' pole coming up through the floor. Want more price level indicators? Put a tape measure on the side of the the pole. All the controller does is make the pole go up when you push up and go around when you push to the side. What would be accomplished by investing hundreds of thousands in R&D for a what amounts to a toggle switch?

        • Why? Why invest that much effort into the controller? The position indicator would be the friggin' pole coming up through the floor. Want more price level indicators? Put a tape measure on the side of the the pole. All the controller does is make the pole go up when you push up and go around when you push to the side. What would be accomplished by investing hundreds of thousands in R&D for a what amounts to a toggle switch?

          Reliability and safety. I doubt we want the operator choking on a chord; nor do we want the thing to fail at the wrong moment. Submarines deal with life-and-death situations during wartime - a fraction of a second and you might miss the signs of a torpedo or something else coming at you and now you have a major issue on hand.

          So no, "the pull it out, toss it, and put a new one in" isn't a solution when ever second counts.

    • They will harden them to some extent. There might be some high initial cost to doing so, but the curve will fall steeply because parts will be interchangeable. They will easily be fixed on board the submarine quickly and efficiently if need be after swapping them out instantly.

      Also, I always thought that Microsoft was an excellent hardware company whose stuff has a build quality that is on par with anything being made (regardless of how poor I think some of their software products happen to be at the same t

  • One of the reasons military gear is far more expensive is that it that they usually expect it to be hardened to stand up to some action. Ships get hit. They want it to still work even after a torpedo goes off.

    Of course, this mass produced piece of plastic is cheaper and people are already familiar with it's use. The question is, will it shatter when the ship gets hit by a shock wave that does not kill the crew?

    • by vux984 ( 928602 )

      The question is, will it shatter when the ship gets hit by a shock wave that does not kill the crew?

      The controllers aren't indestructable but they're pretty good, (remember the old atari joysticks?)

      As long they've got a spare or 2 in the original packaging stashed nearby, does it even matter?

      I just find it more interesting that they're going with the older xbox 360 over the newer xbox one controllers.

      • Just wait until they can't find the pairing instructions

      • The subs will use officially certified versions. They might be exactly the same as the retail ones, but they sure wont cost $30. Nor $300. But $3,000 would still be a significant saving.

      • Because the shock wave only damages controllers that are being used, not the ones in spares.
      • The question is, will it shatter when the ship gets hit by a shock wave that does not kill the crew?

        The controllers aren't indestructable but they're pretty good, (remember the old atari joysticks?)

        As long they've got a spare or 2 in the original packaging stashed nearby, does it even matter?

        I just find it more interesting that they're going with the older xbox 360 over the newer xbox one controllers.

        yes it does. If you've been hit by a shockwave, torpedo, etc - you don't have time to pull something out of a box and replace a controller - you need it to continue functioning; not to mention you now have junk you have to take care of - you don't want it becoming shrapnel or other hazard in the *next* shockwave.

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      One of the reasons military gear is far more expensive is that it that they usually expect it to be hardened to stand up to some action. Ships get hit. They want it to still work even after a torpedo goes off.

      Of course, this mass produced piece of plastic is cheaper and people are already familiar with it's use. The question is, will it shatter when the ship gets hit by a shock wave that does not kill the crew?

      Given people in normal use throw the controllers all over the place in the first place, I think by

  • Missed opportunity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @07:41PM (#55222897)

    Honestly, a periscope that captures all 360 degrees is the perfect situation to use a VR headset. Literally, all you are doing is looking around which is precisely what VR is suited for!

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )

      Literally, all you are doing is looking around which is precisely what VR is suited for!

      I suspect this is being used for a lot more than just looking around. Plus a bank of monitors covering the full 360 can be seen by several people at once.

    • by steveha ( 103154 )

      A VR headset would be great if the periscope is actually a ball of cameras pointing in all directions at once, with computers stitching the images together. Then you could just move your head around to look at different stuff.

      My guess is that the camera on the periscope looks at one thing at a time, and motors swing it in various directions. So what you need is a control that lets you drive the motors to point the camera. An ideal control would allow for slower and faster running of the motors, perhaps b

  • It's just for the periscope. They're not using the Xbone controller to steer the ship or shoot nuclear torpedoes.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's what the Steam Controllers are for.
      Need the customization for that.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I was in the Navy for 21 years. There is a reason that military equipment is rugged in an almost silly Fisher-Price kind of way. Sailors (and Soldiers, Marines and Airmen) are incredibly rough on their equipment. They are a mostly a bunch of 19-22 year olds being led by 26 year olds (with 1-2 35-40 year olds in charge). I guess Xbox controllers are cheap, so you can pack a bunch of spares. You will need them.

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @09:04PM (#55223225)
    I discovered this when I tried switching from a mouse to an Xbox controller for gaming. With the mouse, you change its position and the direction of the camera changes appropriately. Once you've learned how much mouse motion corresponds to how much angular rotation, you can instantly move the camera from one one direction to another simply by moving the mouse to the appropriate spot on the desk. If you want to rapidly move the camera back and forth between two set directions, it's trivial because you're just moving the mouse between two fixed positions on the desk. You could do it blindfolded.

    Not so for the thumbsticks on the XBox-style controller. It doesn't control the direction the camera is pointed. It controls the rate of change of the direction the camera is pointed. You have to push the thumbstick in the direction you want the camera to move, wait for the camera to almost get there, ease up on the thumbstick so the slew rate slows down, ease up some more, ease up some more, then let go when the camera is finally pointed in the desired direction. If you want to rapidly move the camera back and forth between two set directions, it's a lot of work each time, and you need to be watching the camera view to do it.

    I emailed one of the developers working on drivers to allow you to use the controller in games which didn't support it, and learned why. The thumbsticks only have 256x256 resolution. That is, there are only 256 discrete measurable directions the stick can be pointing in each axis. This isn't enough resolution for precise aiming, so they have to use the gimpy slew-rate aiming.

    For a camera limited to just one degree of motion like it sounds like this one is, you want to use a paddle controller [wikipedia.org]. It's just a potentiometer. You rotate it and the camera rotates along with it. It too has a 1:1 correspondence between direction of the controller and direction of the camera. So you could rapidly move the camera back and forth between two set directions, blindfolded. In particular, if you put a raised ridge on the paddle wheel, the operator can know which direction the camera is pointed by feel, instead of having to read a numerical bearing readout. This is much more intuitive (the operator basically won't need any training) and less prone to error.
    • by rl117 ( 110595 )
      Very interesting, thanks. For those thinking that the XBox controller is "pretty good", consider that this is a relative assessment relative to other gaming controllers. It's a cheap mass-produced piece of plastic with cheap internals. It's OK for gaming, but objectively look at the sensitivity and accuracy of the thumbsticks and triggers and you'll see it's objectively quite poor. If you were to use the equivalents in industrial controllers and machine control panels, you would see a huge difference.
    • Totally agree. I cringe watching quadcopter pilots use just their thumbs on the joysticks. It may not be an actual XBox controller though. I may be a mil-spec version with a much higher resolution ADC.
      What this case illustrates is how crappy, inefficient bits of technology become entrenched. The QWERTY keyboard was designed to slow down typists who were so fast as to jam mechanical typewriters (millenials won't know what those are ;-). But more efficient keyboard designs never caught on.
      Sometimes, a co

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        What this case illustrates is how crappy, inefficient bits of technology become entrenched. The QWERTY keyboard was designed to slow down typists who were so fast as to jam mechanical typewriters (millenials won't know what those are ;-). But more efficient keyboard designs never caught on.

        Sorry, but that isn't actually true.

        QWERTY is actually a very efficient layout - it was designed FOR typewriters, not to slow them down, but to allow them to go fast WITHOUT jamming the type. You see, in a typewriter, you

  • by choke ( 6831 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @09:09PM (#55223245) Homepage

    occurs due to a sticking A button.

  • by nightfire-unique ( 253895 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @10:50PM (#55223511)

    I'm calling bullshit on this one.

    An off-the-shelf xbox controller is not marine-grade. Its components will corrode. There is no sensor validation or redundancy. It uses a cheap plastic housing that will crack if impacted.

    It does not make sense to potentially entrust the lives of hundreds on a cheap plastic toy controller. There's simply too much at stake.

    Perhaps some parts of the controller will be included in the military-designed final product, but literally buying a COTS controller and integrating it aboard? Bullshit.

    • by Whatsisname ( 891214 ) on Monday September 18, 2017 @11:05PM (#55223535) Homepage

      I've never served aboard a US submarine, but I'm guessing that if seawater is splashing around in the bridge enough to cause corrosion problems in an Xbox controller, they're going to have worse problems to deal with.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      US navy has had game consoles on board ships and submarines for a long time. They probably have a good data on the failure rates by now. It doesn't take a long time to replace a broken controller. They could even have two controllers plugged in at all times for redundancy, and they probably do, since the Virginia-class has two periscopes.

    • I'm calling bullshit on this one.

      After Windows for Warships? You have lost all perspective. The real world is infinitely dumber than you seem to believe.

      An off-the-shelf xbox controller is not marine-grade. Its components will corrode. There is no sensor validation or redundancy. It uses a cheap plastic housing that will crack if impacted.

      You do the validation in software, including eliminating jitter. If the controller appears to be misbehaving you chuck it in the bin and use another one. The Xbox 360 controllers are plenty durable. In fact, they seem to be substantially more durable than Xbox One controllers, with several reports from Xbone users that they are on their fifth or six controller. I'm on my second Xbox 360 co

  • by SvnLyrBrto ( 62138 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2017 @12:42AM (#55223771)

    Because in a few years, half the submarine force is going to be laid up with carpel tunnel and debilitating hand cramps.

  • by sjbe ( 173966 )

    They are also considerably cheaper. The controller typically costs less than $30 compared to the $38,000 cost of a photonic mast handgrip and imaging control panel.

    They cost $30 NOW. They won't cost $30 in 2050 when they haven't been manufactured for twenty years. The Navy had better stockpile them today since they aren't really designed to last that long, nor are they designed to deal with a marine environment, nor will sailors in 30 years be familiar with the XBox 360. Not to mention that they certainly won't cost anywhere near $30 by the time they get installed in a sub (assuming the story is actually true...) Something about this story sounds a little off...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I just hope the Army doesn't recruit gamers. I can just see it now. The commander orders them into battle, and they all run out and get shot and killed, thinking they are going to respawn in 10 seconds.

  • It initially scared me to think that kids who are young enough to find the xbox 360 to be "natural" would be old enough to be at the helm of billion dollar nuclear armed submarines. Then I realized there are plenty of kids in their 30s who think the xbox 360 is natural even though they are old enough to remember the earliest days of the 8 and 16 bit consoles.
  • This has to be a hoax. The might copy the design to make a controller, but I seriously doubt they'd use an actual Xbox 360 controller, not rugged enough, not waterproof, and so on. I've worked for a military contractor, I have a fair idea what their requirements are, and some plastic consumer thing like that isn't going to pass muster.
  • Sim Sub.

  • by WolfgangVL ( 3494585 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2017 @11:39AM (#55225779)

    The tech will feature both the $30 controller, as well as the $30 million control panel. There will be plenty spares for both, but more of the controller, as it's cheaper, smaller, and easily replaceable at nearly any port in the western world.

    I've used more than one piece of military tech that featured a 360 controller as an interface, and have been responsible for it's continued use in theater. It's actually a pretty great idea from a military point of view. Consider maybe one or two guys are fully trained on the ZYX control panel and can effectively use the ZYX system. Damn near the whole of the lower enlisted already understands how a video-game controller works, so the odds of the ZYX system going down on account of a manpower issue issue are very small. Many are also already accustomed to operating a video game controller for long hours with no sleep and all the coffee you can drink.

    Source: I was there, man.

  • The photonics mast is not new. The Seawolf class had photonics in addition to the periscope. Virginia-class has had no periscope in its design (first boat commissioned in 2004).

    This news is about the XBOX-style controller.

    Oh, and the display surfaces have been using trackballs for decades.

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