Navy to Yank Touchscreens

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

An investigation into the collision between an American warship and an oil tanker in 2017 has caused the Navy to (finally) realize that touchscreen controls are not necessarily a great idea:

Image by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Todd Frantom, via Wikipedia, public domain.
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.

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. Speaking before a recent Navy symposium, he described the controls as falling under the "'just because you can doesn't mean you should' category," and that ship systems were simply too complicated. He also noted that they're looking into the design of other ships to see if they can bring some system commonalities between different ship classes.
Better late than never. I have stated before that Touchscreens Everywhere has always seemed faddish to me. I am glad that others are realizing the same.

New technology, however dazzling, is not always an improvement over old. Sometimes, you just need a knob or a lever. As we see here, those primitive-seeming objects have the underappreciated ability -- missing in a touchscreen -- to provide feedback to the user through more than one sensory modality, and probably more intuitively on top of that.

As the rest of the article indicates, touchscreens weren't the only factor causing the incident, but I have absolutely no trouble with the idea that they made a significant contribution.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

My 21 year old Toyota Tacoma pickup (with 342,000 miles) had a sound system where stereo gave up the ghost. I had it replaced with a more recent stereo system that relies entirely to much on menus and screens. I miss being able to tune the balance/fader or treble/bass by feel and ear without having to take my eyes off the road. There is no way that I can do that with the new system and sometimes, with the nested menus, there is no obvious or intuitive way to exit the menus with resetting what you just went in to change.


Enough with the bells and whistles. Sometimes good enough is actually best.

c andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


I was going to suggest that you should have tried, but they're kaput. (Perhaps one of,, or could find a better older model. But unlike the other site, I can't vouch for any of these.)

The idea of using a nested menu on a touch screen to adjust a stereo while I'm supposed to be driving is hair-raising, to say the least.

Maybe that's why the guy who rear-ended me, totaling my car while I was stopped at a light last year, "didn't see" my car, as the police report put it. (My other pet theory is that he was texting, which is what most people asked when I told them about it.)