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Xbox 360 controller Navy
The cost of an Xbox 360 controller is significantly less than the joystick previously used to control the submarine periscope. (Lockheed Martin Photo)

OK, so my 10-year-old kid could board an advanced U.S. Navy submarine and operate the periscope? That seems to be the pretty cool assumption based on the fact that sailors are now using Xbox 360 controllers to perform functions aboard some vessels.

The Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported that the Microsoft game-console controllers have replaced the helicopter-style stick used to control the periscope on Virginia-class submarines.

The periscope itself is not the rotating tube most people think of thanks to Hollywood movies. Nowadays, the Pilot reported, subs are equipped with two photonics masts that rotate 360 degrees. High-resolution cameras send back images that are displayed on large monitors that everyone in the control room can see.

“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?'” said Lt. j.g. Kyle Leonard, the USS John Warner’s assistant weapons officer. “And one of the things that came out is the controls for the scope. It’s kind of clunky in your hand; it’s real heavy.”

In an effort to cut costs, Lockheed Martin and Navy officials were looking at off-the-shelf technology, and for crew members who grew up playing video games, the answer was simple. The Xbox controller typically costs less than $30. The Pilot’s report said the photonic mast handgrip and imaging control panel cost about $38,000.

The effort to put familiar technology in the hands of sailors won’t stop with the controllers, as touch screens like those on iPads and other devices will soon be incorporated into tasks.

Lockheed Martin Area 51
(Lockheed Martin Photo)

Lockheed Martin has a high-tech Navy version of “Area 51” where it is testing commercial hardware and software for use aboard submarines.

Here, tech-savvy sailors deeply familiar with submarine controls work alongside Lockheed Martin engineers to optimize and streamline technologies onboard Navy submarines. While the results of these projects are unlikely to rattle any alien conspiracy theorists, the developments are equally ground breaking when it comes to the speed at which proven technologies are introduced to the fleet. The Navy’s hunt for solutions to technical challenges include everything from video gaming to smart phones.

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