Monday, Aug. 12th 2019
Verge: The US Navy will replace its touchscreen controls with mechanical ones on its destroyers
The US Navy will replace the touchscreen throttle and helm controls currently installed in its destroyers with mechanical ones starting in 2020
The move comes after the National Transportation Safety Board released an accident report from a 2017 collision, which cites the design of the ship’s controls as a factor in the accident.
The NTSB report calls out the configuration of the bridge’s systems, pointing out that the decision to transfer controls while in the strait helped lead to the accident, and that the procedures for transferring the controls from one station to another were complicated, further contributing to the confusion. Specifically, the board points to the touchscreens on the bridge, noting that mechanical throttles are generally preferred because “they provide both immediate and tactile feedback to the operator.” The report notes that had mechanical controls been present, the helmsmen would have likely been alerted that there was an issue early on, and recommends that the Navy better adhere to better design standards.
This makes sense. But also, bad UI, whether physical or software is just bad UI.
Following the incident, the Navy conducted fleet-wide surveys, and according to Rear Admiral Bill Galinis, the Program Executive Officer for Ships, personnel indicated that they would prefer mechanical controls.
This user research would have been helpful before the accident.
Touchscreens weren’t the only issue in the collision: the report calls out that several crew members on the bridge at the time weren’t familiar with the systems that they were overseeing and were inexperienced in their roles, and that many were fatigued, with an average of 4.9 hours of sleep between the 14 crew members present. The report recommended that the Navy conduct better training for the bridge systems, update the controls and associated documentation, and ensure that Navy personnel aren’t tired when they’re on the job.
There's also that…