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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]