Meet Your Nightmare: A Smart Rifle That Makes Anyone A Sharpshooter

Is a smart rifle a freakishly dangerous innovation or a marvelous invention? You decide.

Over at CNet there's a mind-boggling report on a small Texas firm called Tracking Point which has invented a smart rifle with an intelligent heads-up-display that can turn anyone into a sharp shooter. The invention combines technology from digital cameras, mobile devices, and smart displays into one very lethal package. With a top-end Tracking Point rifle, you can accurately hit a moving target at 1,200 yards, which is about two thirds of a mile.

It's for hunting.

Think about that statement for a second, then read on. The Tracking Point system dispenses with conventional optics for the rifle's scope and instead relies on digital optics with image stabilization.

The trigger in the weapon isn't a simple mechanical system, but instead it's smart, and won't necessarily propel the firing pin into a chambered round until the weapon decides it's the right time--for example, you can "tag" a target through the scope and press the trigger, but the rifle will wait till you've steered the electronic crosshairs onto the tag before releasing the pin. The crosshairs, of course, are positioned by intelligent electronics in the weapon that profile environmental effects using lasers, motion sensors, and image processing. The scope is actually networked and can communicate with a nearby iPad so a colleague can help the shooter set up the shot, and the weapon even records everything it sees through the optics--including the shots.

Does that description sound familiar? It should: It's how snipers and their spotters pull off amazingly accurate long-range shots using just their expertise and precise conventional firearms. In this case you have to pay for the technology, though, and the top-end TP rifle can cost you $27,500.

TP insists you have to go through background checks, and that its weapons are aimed at hunters who want to sharpshoot but can't afford to learn. Its scope is also password-protected, so you can't use the advanced portions of the weapon unless you're its owner.

But this innovation should worry you. Right now it's expensive and has a degree of safety attached to its operation, but TP's innovation is merely the first and it probably won't be long until similar systems become available at lower prices. Then think about all the recent shootings, such as the recent Navy Yard massacre, and cast your mind back to the Beltway sniper attacks. What sort of carnage could be wreaked by someone wielding a smart rifle that makes it hard to miss even at phenomenal ranges?

[Image: Flickr user Samuel Johnson]

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4 Comments

  • jagerninja

    I'm a little irked that the "sub-headline" of this post includes "YOU DECIDE" in nice big letters, but the piece then goes on to say "this is a terrifying thing that will be used by murderers to be better murderers." It's part of the Fast Feed, where I'm hoping for "breaking news and innovation from around the web." If you want to post an opinion piece, post an opinion piece. You're more than welcome to have an opinion, and post it here to provoke discussion. But trying to pass this off as a news piece is, frankly, embarrassing.

  • Magic

    To someone who hasn't ever fired a rifle, yes, this is scary; not the least of which because like all scary things, it represents something new and unknown. To those who have actually fired a rifle, and especially at long distance targets, this isn't all that scary.
    What wasn't really touched on in the article is that hitting a target at long range with any accuracy is really hard. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, and a lot of things that can happen to the bullet on its way to the target. Trained snipers are good at hitting things far away simply because they've put in long hours learning breath control, holding the rifle, and a bevy of other techniques aimed at keeping the gun rock-steady until after the bullet has left the barrel.
    The game isn't over once the firing pin strikes the primer -- anything less than a solid support can make the bullet fly wide and miss the mark. All this is massively exacerbated with every increase in distance to the target.
    What this device does is take some of the guesswork out of the equation. However, even with the gadget, shooters don't always hit their target -- watch some of their videos on YouTube.

    At best, this will benefit another long range sniper -- the Charles Whitmans or the Lee Boyd Malvos. But in that realm of mass murder, there are an astonishingly small number of occurrences where people were shot from long ranges. I'd be worrying about other ways I could come to ill ends long before I'd worry about a bullet coming out from the blue.
    The victims of the Navy Yard shooting, Fort Hood Massacre, and the like, wouldn't have fared any differently, as all of them were shot a. at much shorter ranges (think of throwing a football -- it's a lot easier to connect with your receiver on a short pass rather than a Hail Mary) and b. by either pistols or shotguns. For the umpteenth time, an AR-15 was *not* used at the Navy Yard, nor Fort Hood. However both of them, plus the University of Texas shooting, were perpetrated by people who were in the military. Maybe there's a story there...