17 votes

The US Navy will replace its touchscreen controls with mechanical ones on its destroyers

18 comments

  1. [14]
    NaraVara Link
    Apparently some genius got it in his head to make the piloting of a battleship touch-screen based. I swear bad/half-baked UX will be the death of us all. They're reverting back to more familiar,...

    Apparently some genius got it in his head to make the piloting of a battleship touch-screen based. I swear bad/half-baked UX will be the death of us all.

    They're reverting back to more familiar, mechanical controls it seems. Someone should tell Elon Musk so the Tesla UX can be less of a death trap.

    Also, they kind of buried a potentially important factor all on its own:

    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.

    Seems like a bit of a staffing/management problem to me, which the bad UX is exacerbating.

    15 votes
    1. [6]
      nothis Link Parent
      Around the 2017 accident, there was a lot of talk about how sleep deprived crew members are on major battleships. There were baffling reports of 3 hours of sleep or less being common and them...

      Around the 2017 accident, there was a lot of talk about how sleep deprived crew members are on major battleships. There were baffling reports of 3 hours of sleep or less being common and them finding themselves in a trance-like state of fatigue for a lot of their work.

      No idea if it's a culture thing or a budget thing (or whether anyone in the military finds this lack of sleep unusual in general?) but it seemed to be a huge factor.

      12 votes
      1. [2]
        NaraVara Link Parent
        Could be a big combination of things, like mandatory early wake up-times and noisy ships where young crewmen are letting goof-off/decompression activities bleed into sleeping hours. Plus I imagine...

        Could be a big combination of things, like mandatory early wake up-times and noisy ships where young crewmen are letting goof-off/decompression activities bleed into sleeping hours.

        Plus I imagine being in these big ships with artificial lighting on all day where you almost never actually get exposed to fresh air over the course of the day probably really screws up your circadian rhythm.

        3 votes
        1. papasquat Link Parent
          It's not goof-off time, or even the noise on the ships. It's a ridiculous set of requirements the Navy places on crews that are becoming smaller and smaller for the same given amount of ship. The...

          It's not goof-off time, or even the noise on the ships. It's a ridiculous set of requirements the Navy places on crews that are becoming smaller and smaller for the same given amount of ship. The Navy works a bit differently than other branches of the military. In order to get promoted, there are tests, lots and lots of tests that you have to pass, rather than being judged solely on your prior performance. Sailors spend a good amount of time studying for and taking these tests on the ship. In addition to their normal duties, Sailors also get additional tasks, like standing watch, helping out in the galley, and other "chores", for lack of a better term. When they get assigned these tasks, they don't get a break on their normal job. They still need to do that for 10-12 hours a day. All of these tasks leave very little time for the normal needs of a human being, like meals, laundry, showers, exercise, and so forth. A tiny little sliver of that time may possibly be used for recreation, but if you speak to anyone who has been on a naval ship in the past five years or so, they'll tell you that there's virtually no time for it. It's part of the Navy trying to cut costs by reducing crew compliment and (heavy quotations here) "automate" their newer ships.

          11 votes
      2. ubergeek Link Parent
        No, it's not unusual. While deployed, I average right about exactly 4 hours of sleep per day, for quite the duration. I had to have 4 hours minimum, in order to work on aircraft. And even that was...

        (or whether anyone in the military finds this lack of sleep unusual in general?)

        No, it's not unusual. While deployed, I average right about exactly 4 hours of sleep per day, for quite the duration. I had to have 4 hours minimum, in order to work on aircraft. And even that was overruled often because "Well, there's a technical inspector checking the work, anyways" (Spoiler alert, the TI had 4 hours of sleep).

        2 votes
      3. [2]
        papasquat Link Parent
        Quick annoying and slightly pedantic correction. Battleships are a specific type of large, heavily armed and armored warship that are mostly obsolete. The US navy doesn't operate them anymore. The...

        Quick annoying and slightly pedantic correction. Battleships are a specific type of large, heavily armed and armored warship that are mostly obsolete. The US navy doesn't operate them anymore. The destroyer referred to in the article would be properly referred to as a type of warship.

        6 votes
        1. nothis Link Parent
          I knew I would get the terminology wrong, sorry!

          I knew I would get the terminology wrong, sorry!

    2. [7]
      nic Link Parent
      What makes you claim Tesla is a death trap? I believe Tesla has a manual control for the throttle and steering.

      Elon Musk so the Tesla UX can be less of a death trap

      What makes you claim Tesla is a death trap? I believe Tesla has a manual control for the throttle and steering.

      4 votes
      1. [4]
        Weldawadyathink Link Parent
        I think that commenter was referring to anything else besides those controls. For example, in my car, I can change anything I want about the climate controls, volume, and skip music without taking...

        I think that commenter was referring to anything else besides those controls. For example, in my car, I can change anything I want about the climate controls, volume, and skip music without taking my eyes off the road. I have never driven a Tesla, but I would guess you can't do the same without digging through touchscreen menus.

        12 votes
        1. [3]
          nic Link Parent
          And yet every day I see people driving on the freeway looking at the little touch screen they keep in their pockets. While I don't like touch screens in cars, I think calling Tesla a death trap is...

          And yet every day I see people driving on the freeway looking at the little touch screen they keep in their pockets.

          While I don't like touch screens in cars, I think calling Tesla a death trap is questionable.

          4 votes
          1. Silbern Link Parent
            Isn't that kinda the point though? Looking at those little touchscreens is illegal precisely because it's so dangerous. While my only knowledge the model 3 comes from Doug DeMuro and CGPGrey and...

            Isn't that kinda the point though? Looking at those little touchscreens is illegal precisely because it's so dangerous. While my only knowledge the model 3 comes from Doug DeMuro and CGPGrey and it may be a little overdramatic, a UI built around menu/screen navigation with zero feedback or touch discoverability does require you to divert your attention from the road.

            11 votes
          2. cadadr Link Parent
            You're comparing an illegal and idiotic behaviour with the default modus operandi of a car. Granted, IIRC, Teslas have a decent amount of manual controls on the steering wheel.

            You're comparing an illegal and idiotic behaviour with the default modus operandi of a car.

            Granted, IIRC, Teslas have a decent amount of manual controls on the steering wheel.

            5 votes
      2. [2]
        cptcobalt Link Parent
        Yeah, this severely undermines the quality of OP's argument. It really seems to be a training and staffing issue, first and foremost. Software quality could be a second, but I don't think...

        Someone should tell Elon Musk so the Tesla UX can be less of a death trap.

        Yeah, this severely undermines the quality of OP's argument. It really seems to be a training and staffing issue, first and foremost. Software quality could be a second, but I don't think touchscreens inherently correlate with danger.

        The physical buttons are probably correlated with more direct action and less automation, and probably a sense of safety becuase the physical buttons have been around longer than touchscreens. The crew will be trained to hit ten buttons, and they'll work when they hit them. I bet the software UI driving these destroyers isn't well-considered nor performant, and so the users probably have to open ten sub-menus to hit one highly automated button, which may perhaps only work some of the time. That's the likely problem, but I don't think the touchscreens will be at fault, it's gotta be everything in-between.

        The Tesla UX argument just feels unfounded and arguably dated. I'm a Model 3 owner, but not necessarily a Tesla apologist, and I must say that the car's UI is good and not unsafe. Once you know where everything is, it's not hard to interact with the car. It's a similar learning curve to a car with, say, physical buttons. As an engineer, I sure have my seething complaints about Tesla software quality, but the UX is not one of them.

        6 votes
        1. Greg Link Parent
          Physical controls give haptic feedback, maintain their position in space to give an at-a-glance readout of what they're set to, and can usually be seen from people standing anywhere in the...

          It really seems to be a training and staffing issue, first and foremost. Software quality could be a second, but I don't think touchscreens inherently correlate with danger.

          The physical buttons are probably correlated with more direct action and less automation, and probably a sense of safety becuase the physical buttons have been around longer than touchscreens.

          Physical controls give haptic feedback, maintain their position in space to give an at-a-glance readout of what they're set to, and can usually be seen from people standing anywhere in the vicinity. Often, but not always, they also only perform one single consistent task.

          You can't operate a touchscreen by feel, and that means your muscle memory is inherently limited - that's a fundamental flaw to me. It also can't be seen by colleagues standing on the other side (although that's correctable by duplicating to other displays), and generally can be displaying one of several modes (further limiting muscle memory - and if it's locked to a single mode, why use a screen at all?).

          I'd take a well designed touch interface over a badly designed physical one, but I do think there are fundamentals that make a well designed physical interface superior to either.

          3 votes
  2. [4]
    papasquat Link
    I'm in a different military branch, not the Navy, but from where I sit, the Navy has some extremely deep seated leadership problems that it needs to deal with. From multiple deadly ship...

    I'm in a different military branch, not the Navy, but from where I sit, the Navy has some extremely deep seated leadership problems that it needs to deal with. From multiple deadly ship collisions, to the SEALs constantly being in the news for misconduct, war crimes, and murder, to reports of horrible over-extension and fatigue in sailors, and constant sexual assault allegations all the way up to the highest levels of the organization, it very much seems that something is fundamentally diseased with the US Navy.

    I hope they figure it out soon. I don't know how much more embarrassment the DoD can handle at this point, politically.

    5 votes
    1. ubergeek Link Parent
      Nothing to DoD does would even compare to their CinC's embarrassments. Flows from the top down.

      I don't know how much more embarrassment the DoD can handle at this point, politically.

      Nothing to DoD does would even compare to their CinC's embarrassments. Flows from the top down.

      1 vote
    2. [2]
      PathOfTheProkopton Link Parent
      It's not just the Navy.

      It's not just the Navy.

      1. papasquat Link Parent
        No, but the Navy has certainly been in the news negatively a lot more than the other branches lately.

        No, but the Navy has certainly been in the news negatively a lot more than the other branches lately.