Old Star Trek Was Right As US Navy Returns to Manual Switches

The US Navy will begin reverting destroyers back to a physical throttle and traditional helm control system in the next 18 to 24 months, after the fleet overwhelmingly said they prefer mechanical controls to touchscreen systems in the aftermath of the fatal USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) collision.

“When we started getting the feedback from the fleet from the Comprehensive Review effort – it was SEA 21 (NAVSEA’s surface ship lifecycle management organization) that kind of took the lead on doing some fleet surveys and whatnot – it was really eye-opening. And it goes into the, in my mind, ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ category. We really made the helm control system, specifically on the [DDG] 51 class, just overly complex, with the touch screens under glass and all this kind of stuff,” Galinis said during a keynote speech at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ annual Fleet Maintenance and Modernization Symposium.

“So as part of that, we actually stood up an organization within Team Ships to get after bridge commonality.”

Maybe the Old Star Trek Bridge Was Right With All of the Switches

34 thoughts on “Old Star Trek Was Right As US Navy Returns to Manual Switches”

  1. Your hands are a mechanical device. Moving a lever or pushing a button is something you can do by proprioception, by muscle memory, feeling the restoring force, the tactile feeling of the buttons let you know where you are.
    That’s why you can do a good job with a gamepad, a keyboard and mouse or a steering wheel without even looking at them.

    Try typing on a touch screen without looking at the “buttons”. There’s no point of reference except the edges of the display; you can’t really do that. It’s like going from touch typing while looking at the action to staring at the keyboard and doing the index finger waltz.

    Debouncing a button takes a few ms. A touch panel is much slower; updating at maybe 60 frames per second.

    It is also not the case that a touch panel is still just sending a signal to a computer; the touch panel is running of of it’s own computer that sends a signal to another computer; so you’ve got an extra layer of computing, that’s a cheap comodity device that’s much less fault tolerant than the computer running critical functions in the car, or whatever it may be.

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  2. Yep. Keep the eyes on the road. Touch feedback is nonexistent in a touch screen and the driver needs to look down and is distracted.

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  3. “What’s an old people thing is to automatically assume that just because it FEELS mechanical and more safe, it’s actually reliable and more safe.”

    Air France flight 447 and all people on-board contacted me via ouiji board to tell you that having mechanical feedback is a good thing and that if the pilots had mechanical feedback that they would not have stalled their jet straight in to the ocean.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_France_Flight_447

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  4. “Old Star Trek Was Right As US Navy Returns to Manual Switches”

    Yes but do they make beeping noises when you press the buttons?

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  5. Mechanical controls, really? They’re going to run steel cables from the bridge, to the engine room, so the engine crew can see a little flag raise, and know to open the throttles? The bridge crew is going to yell down tubes to the engine room?

    The controls will still be electronic. The I/O will be levers, wheels, and maybe “analog” gauges, and metal flags. The information input will then likely be carried about the ship on something like a CAN bus. That’s how it’s been done in class 8 trucks(18 wheelers) for at least 15 years. There is no mechanical linkage between the “gas pedal” and the engine, there is a digital bus.

    Personally, this is the way I’d have done it from the beginning. That’s what the crew is used to, so transition is much easier. Such controls would be easy to power from the engine room, so as long as the engine is running, the controls will, even if there is loss of power on the bridge, particularly if analog circuitry was used. With wheels, and levers, an experienced helmsman can operate the ship in total darkness, as long as he can see through the wind screen. He will find the controls in the dark without thinking about it.

    Now, if the navy wants to make it’s controls resistant to electromagnetic interference, and increasing impedance of conductors with time(corrosion, loose connectors), information like desired engine power, and rudder control will be communicated by 4-20 mA circuits like proper instrumentation engineers use.

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  6. I have a more middle position.
    Physical controls has the advantage of better visibility, fixed position and touch feedback.
    They are right for important and/or repetitive tasks

    Virtual controls has the advantage of unlimited button space and great information feedback.

    The best is combine two methods. It’s clear that, behind, all will be converted into digital signals and treated equal. Just it’s more convenient for people one method or another, depending of the function of the functionality of the device.

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  7. These are young kids on the decks of the ships asking for physical controls. Must the world listen to idiots like you who have no understanding.

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  8. Analog vs. digital…

    All chinese drivers are digital… slam on gas go as fast as possible … slam on brakes come to a full stop…. modulate between those two extremes to get anywhere…

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  9. It was meant to put all controls for a specific station in a small area to save time and space, it is useful and was meant to make things more easy and streamlined. I’ve had experience with the Navy and the controls really aren’t complicated, the operators may have just not been trained. I do agree with you that systems such as firing and aiming should be tactile with buttons and joysticks, I think stations such as logistics are heavily improved by the screens that condense information for ease of accessibility. We don’t need to upgrade everything, just things that have noticeable benefits from said upgrade.

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  10. I agree with Why.

    If we look at what, for example, the designers in the 1980s thought was the most advanced and high tech supercar dashboard.

    And we compare that to what 2010s designers think is an advanced and high tech supercar dashboard.

    We see that yes, what we are dealing with is old people who think that digital screens and reprogrammable interfaces are the greatest ever. And we need to abandon this rubbish and move on to simple mechanical interfaces for the many situations where this is superior.

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  11. What’s an old people thing is to automatically assume that just because it FEELS mechanical and more safe, it’s actually reliable and more safe.

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  12. You sound like an old curmudgeon for not wanting everything with an imprecise, distracting touch screen.

    Yeah, it’s /s

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  13. This, touch screens are slow to use and very hard to use if you also do other stuff like driving at the same time.

    They are very good for flexible layout however. In a car they are perfect for stuff like navigation and changing settings. One who require typing or zooming and panning on map the other is rarely done

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  14. There’s a reason mobile phone games are pure unadulturated cancer; the input device is unbelievably awful. It’s skinner boxes all the way down for gameplay because that’s all you can do. What do people who actually care about games use as an input device? Why golly, gee; controllers with analogue and digital buttons and sticks, mice, mechanical keyboards, arcade sticks, racing wheels, HOTAS etc. What is universally derided? Touch screens, gesture controls, voice controls.

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  15. Lemme tell you why: In a car for example, I’d rather feel my way through some hardware knobs while keeping my eyes on the road rather than having to look at a touchscreen.
    In a man-machine interface, overloading one of the human’s senses – vision in this case – with interfaces that can be served by other senses just for the sake of it being cool is actually stupid instead of cool.

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  16. Agreed. But… manual buttons and controls are still just sending signals to a computer. Like the brake pedal on a modern car it’s not physically doing anything. For the human machine interface though, I think simple mechanical dials and switches are still the best interfaces. I wouldn’t want my car steering wheel replaced by a touchscreen.

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  17. Touch input is good for many things, particularly flexibility. Not all inputs require high degrees of flexibility/changeability. You make it seem like we should replace steering wheels and brake pedals on a card with a touchscreen, which would be a safety disaster.

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  18. So, wanting to have reliable manual systems and controls on critical military assets is an old people thing now?

    Ha, OK.

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  19. It also begs the question why the screens were introduced in the first place. Do they have some extra function that you don’t get from normal “analogue” controls? If not, then I think it was just stupid to replace a wheel with a touch-screen.

    Even in the gaming world, the kids still use joysticks. The fastest control in a first person game shoot-em-up is not a touch screen, but a combination of joystick and keys on a keyboard, i.e. “analog” controls.

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  20. 1) Single point of failure – lose the screen and lose access to all functions.

    2) Ambiguity in touch and gestures. Wrong interpretation of a touch or swipe. Try steering a car with an iphone swipe connected to a steering mechanism vs an analog steering wheel

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  21. must everyone always wait for the geezers and luddites to die off before the world can move forward without their baggage.

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  22. Yep. Over-reliance on computerized controls and systems on military craft and ships is a mistake.

    Some things should remain physical and tangible regardless of how sophisticated our computers get. Specially those critical that ensure the ships remain operational and can perform their main functions (like steering and firing).

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