The Missing Submarine and the ‘Logitech Controller’

On June 20 2023, “Logitech” trended on Twitter amid claims that a missing submersible that was intended to visit the remains of the Titanic was “controlled by a Logitech controller”:

The tweet above was viewed tens of millions of times in a span of hours, and was one of several with similar wording. More broadly, the situation it referenced was far more detailed, and benefitted from several pieces of context.

Fact Check

Claim: A “missing submarine” in June 2023 utilized a “Logitech controller” as primary technology for reaching the floor of the ocean.

Description: In June 2023, a missing submarine, the ‘Titan’, was claimed to be controlled by a Logitech gaming controller. This led to widespread criticism and concerns over the safety and credibility of the submarine’s technology setups. However, the usage of commonly available game controllers like Xbox or Logitech isn’t uncommon in naval technologies and is often seen as cost-effective and easy to use due to their familiarity.

Rating: Decontextualized

Rating Explanation: While the claim that the missing submarine ‘Titan’ uses a Logitech controller for navigation is true, the implications that it is inappropriately ‘improvised’ or particularly unsafe are not necessarily accurate as even military submarines have been known to use similar off-the-shelf technology.

What Missing Submarine? Missing Submersible? What?

As of June 20 2023, the words “missing submarine” (or “missing submersible”) had been part of the news cycle for a little over a day.

News about an actively missing submarine was dispersed, often covered in liveblogs or similar formats. A Wikipedia entry (“2023 Titan submersible incident”) summarized the incident in a concise and thorough way beyond “latest developments”:

On 18 June 2023, the Titan, a submersible operated by OceanGate Expeditions, went missing in the North Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada. The submersible, designed to accommodate five people, was carrying an expedition of tourists to view the wreckage of RMS Titanic. The breathable air supply is expected to expire on 22 June 2023 at approximately 04:00 [Newfoundland Time] NDT (UTC−02:30).

A section titled “Timeline of events” provided additional information about what occurred before the vessel lost contact:

On 16 June [2023], the expedition to Titanic departed from St John’s, Newfoundland, aboard the research and expedition ship MV Polar Prince. The ship arrived at the dive site on 17 June [2023] and the dive operation began the following day on 18 June [2023] at 9:00 ADT. For the first hour and a half of the descent, the Titan communicated with the Polar Prince every 15 minutes, but communication stopped after a recorded communication at 11:47 ADT. The vessel was expected to resurface at 18:10 ADT. Authorities were notified about the incident at 18:35 ADT. According to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Halifax, the Titan was reported overdue at about 22:43. [citation needed]

A number of errors could have occurred. One possibility is that the Titan‘s communication equipment may have failed, meaning [those aboard remained] unable to communicate with above-water crew but able to freely navigate. It’s also possible there is a problem with the ballast system, which controls the vessel’s descent and ascent. Another scenario is that the Titan became “hung up on a piece of wreckage that could keep it from being able to return to the surface.” It may also have suffered damage or a mechanical failure that caused the submersible to implode or to leak and sink, or [it] end[ed] up on the ocean floor in an immobile state.

Among details commonly mentioned in the news and on Wikipedia was the cost per passenger to join the potentially ill-fated expedition, $250,000 each.

Did the Missing Submarine Use a Logitech Controller? If So, Why?

On Wikipedia, a section of the entry bridged two separate elements of the larger story.

The first was a 2022 article by writer David Pogue about the vessel, which circulated after news broke that the vessel had gone missing; the other involved the Logitech controller allegation:

David Pogue, a reporter who embarked on the expedition in 2022, stated that all passengers who enter the Titan sign a waiver confirming their knowledge that it is an “experimental” vessel “that has not been approved or certified by any regulatory body, and could result in physical injury, disability, emotional trauma or death.” Pogue’s report for CBS Sunday Morning, which questioned Titan‘s safety, later went viral on social media. It included allegations that the steering for the submarine was controlled by a $30 Logitech F710 game controller.

OceanGate intended to conduct multiple expeditions to the Titanic in 2023, but because of poor weather in Newfoundland, the company has only launched a single expedition so far in 2023.

News about the missing vessel typically gave an impression that the “submersible” was unreliable and potentially unsafe. A popular June 19 2023 thread to Reddit’s r/titanic exemplified reports that the vessel was perhaps not seaworthy:

On June 20 2023, technology news site Ars Technica published “Submarine missing near Titanic used a $30 Logitech gamepad for steering,” largely re-hashing Pogue’s 2022 reporting and quoting of OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush:

As [news of] the potential disaster gripped social media, details about OceanGate’s history of avoiding or complaining about safety regulations emerged. In particular, people began sharing a CBS Sunday Morning segment broadcast in November 2022 that shows reporter David Pogue visiting the Titan, which he later boarded for an expedition to the Titanic.

During the CBS clip, Rush gives Pogue a tour of the sub, noting the presence of “only one button” in the entire vessel and saying that a sub “should be like an elevator.” Pogue also mentions how many pieces of the sub seem improvised, including off-the-shelf computer displays, a lighted overhead grab bar “from Camper World,” and using construction pipes as ballast. During that segment, Rush holds up a Logitech F710 Wireless controller that appears to have 3D-printed thumb-stick extensions and says, “We run the whole thing with this game controller.”

A BBC News article published late on June 20 2023 also featured a photograph of OceanGate CEO Rush holding the same Logitech controller. It was titled “Titan sub: Cramped vessel is operated by video game controller,” and reported:

How is the Titan controlled?
GPS is not an option when submersibles dive to depths as deep as the Titan does.

Instead, a special text messaging system allows the crew to receive instructions from the team on the surface vessel above.

Onboard, the pilot steers based on these instructions with a modified video game controller.

Mr Rush, speaking to CBS News [in 2022], said piloting the sub “shouldn’t take a lot of skill”.

CBS News drew from Pogue’s reporting, too:

Space inside the submarine was similar to the interior of a minivan, and, with just one button and a video game controller used to steer it, the vessel “seemed improvised, with off-the-shelf components,” Pogue said.

On balance, news reports seemed to infer or imply that the use of a Logitech controller was proof positive the vessel was inherently doomed. Another popular Reddit post to r/LPOTL (“Last Podcast on the Left”) addressed the ongoing situation from a “true crime” vantage point:

In one thread of comments, a Reddit account asked why the missing vessel appeared to lack a “tracker.” In response, a commenter asserted:

The answer is: they’re rich idiots, not actual engineers (or both? both). It’s piloted with an Xbox controller.

Comments of that description were extraordinarily common on the many threads across subreddits, all monitoring the missing vessel. On r/LPOTL, however, one commenter challenged the assumption the presence of the controller ought to have been a red flag to those aboard:

Some military equipment use xbox controllers. Most kids signing up are already familiar with them, cuts down on training costs.

A user on r/worldnews left a similar comment, but linked to a March 18 2018 The Verge article, “The US Navy’s newest submarine comes with an Xbox controller.” Its subheading indicated that “Off-the-shelf equipment saves the military a lot of money,” and it reported:

[In March 2018], the USS Colorado, the US Navy’s latest Virginia-class attack submarine, went into service from the Naval Submarine Base New London in Connecticut. It comes with an unconventional piece of equipment: an XBox controller, according to USA Today … Initially, the masts were controlled with a “helicopter-style stick,” but those were described as heavy and clunky, and were swapped out with an Xbox 360 controller.

That article largely rehashed an Associated Press item from March 16 2018 (“Attack submarine Colorado, Xbox controllers included, to join the fleet”). In sharp contrast to the role of the Logitech controller in the June 2023 missing Titan submersible incident, the 2018 article framed the United States Navy’s use of a widely available game controller as innovative, not irresponsible:

The 377-foot-long [USS Colorado submarine] weighs about 7,800 tons submerged. It can fight submarines and surface ships, conduct surveillance and deliver Special Operations troops. It has two large tubes that can launch six Tomahawk missiles each.

The Colorado is the first attack submarine where sailors use an Xbox controller to maneuver the photonics masts, which replaced periscopes, Koepp said. Other submarines have joysticks. Using commercial off-the-shelf technology saves money, and young sailors report to the submarine knowing how to use it, Koepp said.


On June 20 2023, news about a missing submersible (the Titan) frequently mentioned the presence of a Logitech controller — largely interpreted by social media as an indication the vessel was poorly constructed, dangerous, and rickety. The Titan was not the only vessel of its type to feature such a modification. In March 2018, the Associated Press reported that the USS Colorado was, among other things, equipped with an Xbox controller to “maneuver the photonics masts, which replaced periscopes,” a feature preferred by “young sailors.”

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