On Sunday morning, an OceanGate submarine with five people on board went missing in the Atlantic Ocean about an hour and forty-five minutes after a scheduled trip to explore the wreckage of the RMS Titanic. Made of carbon fiber and titanium, the barrel has enough air for 96 hours; however, as news of the emergency has spread, there has also been a shock to the public wireless Logitech F710 gamepad used to send.
The Titan advertises “state-of-the-art lighting and sonar navigation systems plus internally and externally mounted 4K video and photo equipment”, and this CBS News Sunday morning segment by David Pogue, taken last summer, showed the reporter laughing as he was shown the controls. OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush holds up the F710 and says, “We run the whole thing… with this game controller.” The reporter refers to the “MacGyver jury-riggedness” of the whole thing, using a lot of off-the-shelf parts, as Rush said, “certain things, you want to take the plunge,” and points to work with Boeing and NASA.
This isn’t entirely unusual – as we’ve mentioned before, the US Navy uses gamepads to control submarine periscopes and the photonic masts they replaced, and The Boring Company has shown off an Xbox One controller controlling one of its massive drilling machines.
Gamepads are versatile, comfortable and familiar to use, but I’ve had enough controllers malfunction during intense matches to raise an eyebrow at the sight of a fairly generic wirelessly connected device that’s relied on for something so important. This isn’t just the periscope, as described by Rush – it’s the ship itself.
Trips aboard the Titan submarine for five people reportedly cost $250,000 per seat. A statement signed ahead of the expedition explains that “this experimental craft has not been approved or certified by any regulatory agency and could result in physical harm, emotional trauma or death.”
Other elements of Pogue’s experience are more disturbing. During one of the dives, while remaining on the ship, the submarine became lost for hours and never found the wreck, with OceanGate cutting off internet access during that time, saying all available channels were needed to maintain contact with the submarine.
It is unclear what kind of internet connection was available on the ship at the time, but OceanGate tweeted last week that his 2023 expeditions will depend on Starlink’s satellite internet service to communicate with the outside world. Without GPS, the Titan is guided underwater via text messages sent from the surface ship; However, in a BBC news interviewPogue noted that those may only work if the submarine is directly below the ship.
He too said in a tweet that it is not equipped with a distress beacon that could help rescuers locate it, either on the ocean floor or once it has risen to the surface. The submarine is also bolted from the outside, so those inside need rescuers to get them out, even once they surface, using one of several methods available.
The location of the voyage is listed as approximately 380 nautical miles south of Newfoundland, Canada. The U.S. Coast Guard has been part of the search since Sunday morning, using sonar-powered aircraft to search underwater, sonar buoys, sonar from the expedition ship and watching on the surface. The Coast Guard’s latest update said the search area completed this morning is 10,000 square miles, and they’ve scheduled a press conference for 1 p.m. ET with further updates.