Why missing Titanic sub’s R800 gaming controller is not that strange

While critics of the company behind a missing submersible that regularly dives to the Titanic shipwreck have called out its use of an affordable off-the-shelf game controller, several military vehicles use similar gamepads.

The disappearance of OceanGates Expedition’s Titan submersible and its five crewmembers and tourists shortly after they set off on their journey to the famous ship’s resting place on Sunday has made headlines around the world.

Rescue crews from several countries are scrambling to locate and recover the vehicle and its occupants before running out of oxygen.

Although many aspects of the Titan’s design have been criticized for being inadequate for its dangerous 3,800-metre dive, many online users have been fixated on the game controller.

A six-month-old insert from CBS Sunday Morning featured OceanGate Expeditions CEO Stockton Rush showing a journalist that the Titan is controlled with a slightly-modified Logitech F710 wireless gamepad.

Based on what can be seen in the video, only the thumbsticks have been altered.

At the time of publication, we found the Logitech F710 available from several prominent retailers in South Africa, with prices ranging from R799 to R849. It was first sold in 2010.

The Titan’s use of a gaming controller, and a moderately cheap and old one at that, has stunned many people and added to the narrative that the submersible was a jury-rigged contraption.

OceanGate Expeditions CEO Stockton Rush shows stunned CBS Sunday World correspondent David Pogue what the controller for the Titan submersible looks like. Credit: CBS Sunday World

However, as a recent Vice article pointed out, numerous advanced vehicles are controlled with off-the-shelf gamepads — with the Xbox controller being particularly popular.

The latest official Xbox wireless controller currently sells for between R1,299 and R1,499. Several generic knock-off models are available for less than R1,000.

The US Navy currently uses Xbox controllers on the USS Colorado submarine to control periscopes and photonic masts, while the US Army has also employed them for controlling bomb disposal robots.

The Carmel, a hi-tech street-fighting Israeli tank that debuted in 2019, also uses an Xbox controller.

Self-developed controllers often also mimic the basic design of gaming controllers.

An example of this is the US Army’s M-Shorad’s combat vehicle, which features a controller that bears a striking resemblance to that of the Nintendo 64 gaming console.

The Challenger 2 tank’s fire controller also looks like a gamepad.

The major benefits of using off-the-shelf gamepads are that they’re cheap, avoid costly research and development, and are familiar to younger recruits who might have some experience playing video games.

In the case of steering the Titan, it appeared to have been sufficient for at least three successful expeditions to the Titanic site since July 2021.

In the CBS Sunday Morning insert, Rush also said spare units were kept on board in case the primary one malfunctioned.

The Titan crew’s oxygen is expected to be depleted by around 08:30 on Thursday, 22 June 2023.

OceanGate Titan submersible

Now read: Microsoft’s black Xbox Series S with 1TB storage launching in South Africa.

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Why missing Titanic sub’s R800 gaming controller is not that strange