Army fly UAV Spy Plane with Xbox 360 Controller

I was just watching an Army Jobs advert on Channel 4, and it showed them piloting an unmanned aerial vehicle with an Xbox 360 controller.

Army UAV Xbox Controller

I wondered whether this was just for TV, but it seems that US marines have also been spotted controlling an SUGVs (small unmanned ground vehicle) with an XBox controller.

It would make a lot of sense as the XBox 360 controller:

  • Uses a common USB interface
  • Has drivers available for Windows, OS X and Linux
  • Has been extensively tested by millions of gamers
  • Is perhaps one of the greatest game controllers ever built

So why reinvent the wheel? You can see the full advert below…

Update 29th April 2008

I wrote to Army under the Freedom of Information act to find out if it really was an XBOX controller, and here is their reply.

Army Recruiting and Training Division
Trenchard Lines
Wiltshire SN9 6BE
Telephone:    01980 615065
Facsimile:      01980 615078

D/ARTD/1/3/12/1 75017 

29 April 2008

Mr P Manders 

Dear Mr Manders,

Thank you for your email of 8 April to the Ministry of Defence regarding an Army 
Recruitment Video.  I have been asked to reply.

The highly sophisticated mini Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) shown in the advert 
is the Desert Hawk 3 which is currently deployed on operations in Iraq.  Desert 
Hawk 3 is a portable UAV surveillance system which provides aerial video 
reconnaissance.  The equipment can be used for a variety of tasks, such as force 
protection for convoys and patrols, route clearance, base security, reconnaissance 
or target tracking.

The system used to control the planes has been adapted by Lockheed Martin and 
although the controller used by the soldiers to fly the plane is very similar to a 
Microsoft Xbox 360 controller, it is not the same.  You will see that there is no 
Microsoft wording on the controller nor a wired headset port. 

The advert demonstrates that the skills and abilities that an individual develops in 
their life prior to joining the Army may have a critical application within the British 
Army on operations today. 

I hope this is helpful.

Yours Sincerely 

Jodie C Spreadbury

35 thoughts on “Army fly UAV Spy Plane with Xbox 360 Controller”

  1. pure genious, all me maes said it was bullshit that the army would use a xbox 360 controll but i had faith and it is real

  2. this is so cool, i am 13 i was born in 1994 i would like to be in the army when i am older and be part of the spy plane team

  3. It’s not true. It’s subliminal messaging used to recruit youths, And by the looks of the kid above, it’s worked a treat.

  4. From a financial and operations perspective I think that using a tried and tested device, such as the xbox 360 controller, would be more beneficial. Whether the army actually uses this device to control UAVs is another question.

    First of all it would cost a lot more to outsource the research, testing and production of a HID (human interface device) from scratch.

    All they need here is a programmer to create software which would recognise the input signals from the buttons of the £30 controller.

    I guess the army also hope that the controller would be a device which prospective recruits would be familiar with – which would mean less time spent training (which costs a lot money).

    I personally do not believe that the message was subliminal – if it were, it would have been a little less obvious and not a blatent shot of someone using an xbox 360 controller.

  5. I just phoned the Army press office, and the guy I spoke to told me that he thought it was unlikely that they would be able to use an xbox controller to control the spy plane as it is “a pretty complicated piece of kit”.

    He wasn’t able to give me an exact answer as apparently this information is classified. Anyone care to file a freedom of information act request?

  6. So as you can see from the update I have made to this post, the Army have now replied to me and clarified that although the controller used by them to fly the plane is very similar to an Xbox 360 controller, it is not quite the same, but it is the real controller that you see in the advert.

  7. Excellent work by the way. I’ve wanted to know about this for a while but never did anything about it. I’m in Ireland and I’ve seen this ad on some of the British channels over here. I noticed the Xbox 360 controller straight away. My girlfriend was sitting beside me and didn’t have a clue what I was talking about until I picked up my own controller and pointed it out to here on the ad. I was also watching “Future Weapons with Mack” on Discovery Channel. They had an unmanned equipment carrier which was called a Mule. It was remotely controlled and used an xbox 360 wired controller, which was wired into a large transmitter for remote control purposes. On the close-up of the xbox controller on this show, it definitely had the silver and green xbox button on it. The xbox controller in the army ad above looks, to me, like is also has the xbox silver and green button in the centre. My point about my girlfriend not noticing is because I feel this ad is designed directly to influence young MEN as they play video games by 20:1 probably. I also notice there are no women in that group of people at all. I’m not to sure about how I feel about recruiting young boys like this…. I’ll have to think about it some more!!!

  8. as a serving soldier attached to the uav team i can say that it is an adapted 360 controler, it is used due to the ergonomic shape and adaptability

  9. I think these remote control spy planes
    are great because they save lot of soldiers.I wish that i could fly them.

  10. I would say the military budget probably provides for a much better controller than one from and XBox 360. It is awesome to see some of our technological capabilities!

  11. With the age of the guys and gals entering these conflicts, they will have grown up using these console controllers, and will simply be more dextrous, more quickly than they would be with any other controller that the milliatary could supply them I think it’s a simple response, and for once, shows a bit of common sense.

  12. A lot of the arguments here against the military using a modified commercially-available controller at this point are as relevant as stating a misgiving about the military not using a pen to write with and wasting money developing their own.
    The money has been spent developing the UAV itself, not wasted redesigning the interface equipment. Microsoft spent time and money developing the XBox controller with consideration of ergonomics and input/response data speeds among others. Why waste government money on repeating this?
    The XBox 360 controller was also developed in mind of 2 decades of videogame HID evolution. Any 18 year old has at least some recognition of what such a controller looks like and behaves like – and there is a high likelihood of extensive familiarity. We want our troops to know their tools do we not?

  13. It’s just a matter of key bindings. There’s obviously some kind of joystick to control it, and certain buttons make the controller record, snap a picture, stop recording, turning lights on and off. You could reroute key bindings so that A,B,X and Y all do those things.

    When XBOX controllers first came out with the usb I was already using it to play roms on ZSNES. It’s definitely not inconceivable that the US Army Engineering department can figure out how to use one to fly a plane.

  14. But on second thought, the soldiers in the advert you watched were probably just playing Call of Duty in a little bit of spare time. After all, there are a lot of soldiers who play Call of Duty.. A LOT.

  15. Found this forum cus I saw Mack using a 360 controller on Future weapons. Season 3 Episode 6. Screenie for your pleasure.

    As you can see in the screen shot, though a little fuzzy, this is a MS branded controller with the green xbox logo. Mack also mentions using B for backwards and left analog for steering, and right lower paddle button is gas/fwd.

  16. the army use the standard X-box controler which is why its got the same layout, it is powered by the standard back like a normal x-box controler and is connected using computer/tv then the uav has been adapted to respond to controls of the x-box controler so that it is easy to use so in fact this is in no way fake and requires skill so that it is not spotted

  17. Any idea where I could find the advert now? Or if not do you know the title of the advert? I think its mad, obviously a way to recruit video gamers, but even madder I now know its actually used to control military hardware.

  18. Being a UAV ground control system developer I can confirm that at least during flight tests regular USB-gamepads are being used. As said it’s cheap, well tested and you can switch to an new one plug-n-play if you break the thing (try do that in an F-16).

    For this case however I think the aircraft is controlled by another joystick and the device in the picture (being a XBOX controller or not) is used to control a sensor onboard the vehicle, perhaps a camera. I think the marketing guys however gladly put this into the commercial…

  19. FYI, the link to the guys controlling the SUGV is showing US Army soldiers, not US Marines. Not a big deal, just wanted to point out the detail.

  20. From a financial and operations perspective I think that using a tried and tested device, such as the xbox 360 controller, would be more beneficial. Whether the army actually uses this device to control UAVs is another question.

  21. What the f*** do you care? whatever kinda device you use to control a unmanned spy drone, it is freakin cool…

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