TECH NEWS – The missing OceanGate Titan submarine is controlled by a decade-old Xbox controller that costs less than £50. Sounds dangerous, but it’s actually common practice.
Being trapped on board a 22ft (about 7m) long boat two and a half miles (4,000m) below the ocean’s surface is scary enough. But the thought of trusting your life to a 42-pound video game controller seems even worse. However, choosing an Xbox game controller for the OceanGate submarine isn’t as strange as it seems.
The crisis aboard the Titan tourist submarine has gripped people worldwide after five undersea explorers attempted to uncover the wreckage of the ill-fated ship in the mid-Atlantic.
Their fate remains uncertain. But one of the strangest details so far is that a cheap third-party Logitech F710 controller is controlling the submarine. The latter was first released in 2011 and is available on Amazon for just £42.
One would expect some complex, custom-built controller or at least a joystick setup similar to those used in flight simulators in video games. But using ordinary gamepads is quite common in both civilian and military vehicles.
The US military has been using Xbox controllers for years. Particularly for driving uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs). It makes it easier for the soldiers to learn to control them because it is a familiar device. For similar reasons, Ukrainian soldiers can be seen using ordinary controllers when demonstrating how to operate drones.
Modern controllers are made with a high degree of precision. Especially more expensive models like the DualSense Edge. What was designed for professional e-sport pilots is proving just as useful for soldiers and pilots.
Plus, the simpler the technology, the less chance of failure. This has always been the basic principle of space exploration, and travelling to the ocean’s depths presents many of the same difficulties.
Not only would a joystick take up more space and have more moving parts that could break, but even using a traditional Xbox controller or PlayStation 5 DualSense could cause problems.
Modern gamepads are prone to a fault called “joystick drift”, where the analogue stick causes movement in the game even when it is not touching.
Exactly why this happens has never been fully explained. At least in the case of the Nintendo Switch, it’s thought to be because the small size of the controller has so many functions and components in such a small space.
In comparison, the Logitech F710 is a much simpler device; ergo, far fewer things can break. Whether that was the logic behind choosing this one is unclear. However, whatever happened to the Titan is probably unrelated to the controller.