The games console; hated by parents across the land, who call it an expensive waste of money. However the days when consoles were just used for games is long gone, as people across the world have found a wide variety of unusual uses for controllers, processing units, motion sensors etc to innovate many different fields.

There has long been a dispute over which is better; the PS3 or Xbox 360 controller. According to the military the matter has been settled: the Xbox controller now finds itself at home not in the living room but on the front lines of war. American Gunship helicopters now have modified Xbox controllers instead of traditional controls. Anyone who’s played the Modern Warfare series will be familiar with calling in a UAV; in the real world, the Xbox controller can be used to fly one and attack real targets. On the ground bomb disposal robots have also had a makeover, with not just the Xbox controller but also the Wii getting a look in. At least 500 Wii controlled robots are in use today.

The Xbox Kinect has found an even more diverse range of uses. The Kinect is built to pick up movement, but what if you mounted it on something moving? In Japan a small company has successfully made the Kinect sensors to act as the eyes of their new robot – all five tonnes of it! This monster goes by the name of Vaudeville and stands at over 12 feet high. Elsewhere the Kinect has found a home in medicine; the motion detection and voice commands allow surgeons to carry out delicate key hole surgery just by moving their hands in the air and speaking to the screens. Trials began in London back in May of this year. Indiana Jones may also soon be carrying a Kinect after archaeologists in Jordan hacked a Kinect to scan and map an entire dig site, vastly accelerating the process. Other uses for the Kinect include help with physiotherapy, motion controlled computer screens like in Minority Report and motion tracking security cameras that work at night.

PlayStation hasn’t missed out on all the fun; in 2010 the US air force unveiled ‘Condor Cluster,’ the 33rd largest super computer in the world, made almost entirely from PlayStation Threes. 1,760 game consoles were cannibalised in its construction and is now the fastest computer in the entire US armed forces. It’s interesting to note that Sony make a loss with ever PS3 sold as they expect people to buy the games and other accessories; I wonder how much money they lost because of the US defence programme mucking around with their stuff!

Parts of games are also used; the engine that runs MW3 is also used by a subsidiary company to provide combat simulators for armies around the world.

The consoles are also being used in an unusual way by the US intelligence services. They are acquiring games consoles from other countries to see if useful information can be found on the memory. A little bit crazy you may say but next time you throw out your old console, spare a thought for the intelligence service who may be trying to decide if your Achievements score in Call of Duty is a threat to national security!

The games industry has created many interesting possibilities; Microsoft had no idea what they had stumbled on when they created the Kinect and the immense possibilities that have been unlocked. Consoles have now found their way into different applications across the globe. With human imagination having no bounds, what will a games console be used for next?

Timothy Winstanley

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