US Navy set to ditch touch-screen controls in its fleet of destroyers

Most of us might imagine a future where our devices – and perhaps our cars, or even high-speed jets or boats –  might be controlled all by the power of touch, just like modern smartphones. However, the US Navy confirmed this week that it will be uninstalling touch controls on its fleet of destroyers.

The news comes after two accidents involving US Navy ships, wherein a commission investigated and found that crewmen about both vessels found touchscreens difficult to operate and control under stressful conditions.

The report found that sailors vastly preferred physical wheels and throttles to control their vessels, and outperformed tests where they were tasked to make maneuvers using touchscreens.

Speaking on the complexity of touchscreen systems, US Navy Rear Admiral Bill Galinis quipped that “[I]t 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”.

In 2017, an accident saw the USS John S McCain hit a container ship, the Alnic MC.

The National Transportation Safety Board, upon review of the incident, confirmed that though the likely cause was “a lack of effective operational oversight of the destroyer by the US Navy,” it also noted that the ship’s complex throttle and steering touchscreen controls proved burdensome under duress.

The US Navy is now in the process of removing touchscreens from its fleet, and has confirmed its plans to reinstall physical controls by the end of 2020.

Given the input of touchscreen controls into our daily lives – and the increasing tendency of automotive manufacturers to introduce touchscreen systems and, in some cases, controls – into their vehicles, it remains to be seen whether the development will have wider ramifications in the technology industry.