Five people are currently missing after a tourist sub called the Titan tried searching for remains of the HMS Titanic. We don’t yet know why contact was lost, but the emergency search now underway has people pouring over every detail of the OceanGate Expeditions voyage and how the sub for it was built, including the past use of a cheap old Logitech gaming controller from 2010.
A search for the deep-sea vessel is being led by the U.S. Coast Guard. As The Associated Press reports, contact was lost on June 18, nearly two hours into the Titan’s descent. This trek was its third voyage taking rich tourists to survey the ruins of the famous 1912 British passenger liner. The “mission support fee” for the most recent trip was $250,000 per person, and an advisor for the company operating the Titan told The AP that it has a 96-hour oxygen supply. It can also only be opened from the outside even if it makes it back up to the surface by itself. Rescue crews are now racing to get another submersible craft prepared to try and reach the same depth of the Titan when it lost contact.
In the meantime, people online are analyzing detailsof the submarine’s construction. That led many to a 2022 CBS Sunday Morning profile of OceanGate Expeditions and its sub in which CEO Stockton Rush discusses all of the “off-the-shelf components” the company was able to use to outfit the Titan. One of those appeared to be a modified Logitech G Wireless Gamepad F710, a $50 third-party gaming controller for the Xbox 360 released in 2010 which Rush held up during a tour of the sub.
Was the Titan submarine looking for the Titanic controlled with an old game controller?
“It seems like this submersible has some elements of MacGyver-y jerry-rigged-ness,” CBS reporter David Pogue said during the segment. “I mean you’re putting construction pipes as ballasts.” Rush seemed unphased at the time. “I don’t know if I’d use that description of it but there’s certain things you want to be buttoned down,” he said at the time.
It’s not clear if the Titan was still using the Logitech F710 on its latest expedition a year later, or if there were back-up navigation tools onboard. Photos from OceanGate Expeditions’ website of a 2021 voyage do show the 2010 controller sitting onboard in one of the shots. However, a different photo from another gallery shows Rush holding what looks like a modified Xbox controller that possibly has a small screen embedded in it. And in one early video, a member of the company even demonstrates the design using a PlayStation 3 DualShock controller. National Geographic confirms the Titan was originally designed with the PS3 controller in mind, though there’s no confirmation if it was still in use during the current expedition.
Of course, modified controllers have long been used outside of gaming for everything from lethal military weapons to futuristic science experiments. A fertility clinic recently reported using a PlayStation 5 DualSense to perform the first-ever in vitro fertilization via robot. Back in 2018, the U.S. military switched from expensive custom joysticks to Xbox 360 controllers for its then-newest attack sub precisely because the Microsoft gamepads were cheap and easy to replace. Launched back in 2005, the old controllers are still reportedly part of the Department of Defense’s budget request for 2024.
It’s important to note then that while there’s no confirmation yet of whether the Titan was using a modified $50 controller, there’s also no indication that using one would’ve been a major safety risk, or evidence that OceanGate was somehow cheaping out the submarine’s construction. The controller itself has very good reviews on sites like Amazon. There’s likely a ton of other things that could have gone wrong instead, including any number of unexpected environmental conditions kilometers below the North Atlantic Ocean.
While some of the Titan’s components may have been off the shelf, Rush stressed during the 2022 interview that others like the pressure-sealed hull were made with input from NASA and Boeing. “Everything else can fail,” he said. “Thrusters can go, your lights can go, you’re still gonna be safe.” Hopefully that’s the case.
Update 6/20/2023 1:16 p.m. ET: Added more context from National Geographic.