Smart Rifles: Sniping for Dummies
Everyone will agree that technology enriches our lives, from instant communication across the world, to automating tasks that once would have taken hundreds of man-hours. But at what point does technology go too far?
This is a question that the Austin, Texas based company TrackingPoint has undoubtedly heard, and both evidently and rightly, ignored.
Creators of what they've labeled the world's first "Smart Rifle", these enterprising Texans have come up with a way to turn a completely untrained shooter into a someone who could fend off an enemy at the gates.
The author, demoing their .338 Lapua model.
I got to get my hands on a demo of one of their rifles, chambered in .338 Lapua, at this year's South by Southwest conference. Strangely enough, their booth was in the Gaming expo, which in hindsight was a perfect fit, as the vast majority of video gamers have never so much as held a real firearm, which makes them the perfect market for the company.
You see, if you can click a button, you can fire these rifles, with exceptional accuracy. I spoke to Jerel Heritage, one of TrackingPoint's technicians. He explained the operation of the firearm, which relies on a Linux-based computer that calculates all the ballistic variables for you. You simply paint what you want to shoot with a small button on the side of the trigger well, hold down the trigger, and the rifle will only fire once your barrel is in the exact spot to make the shot.
Is that "cheating"? No. What are you, stupid? The point of any weapon is to have tactical superiority over your enemy. And if we're discussing non-tactical uses, such as hunting, wouldn't it be more human to be absolutely sure of your shot placement to kill the animal as cleanly as possible?
TrackingPoint's demo at SXSW gaming expo
I know we're not really arguing against anyone in our audience here on Bullshido, but on some fundamental level of my consciousness I object to the idea that companies like TrackingPoint shouldn't be pushing the frontiers of technology because they happen to be operating in an area that involves taking life. That ship has long since sailed, unless you consider a rifle to be more of a threat than nuclear weapons, climate change, man-made earthquakes, and Canadian teen pop idols.
Not to mention that these puppies aren't cheap --$10,000 for the AR-15 model -- so you're not going to see these in the hands of your local gang banger or disgruntled postal employee, if that's your favorite flavor of paranoia.
You can find out more about these rifles on the company's website.
I remember watching a special on these a couple months back.
Cool tech, I think I remember them saying it doesn't work that great in certain weather conditions (that a scope would normally be OK in, like rain or snow), it will **** with the targeting computer and render faulty ballistics solutions.
This kind of stuff may represent the future of long range marksmanship. I'm not such a stuck in my ways old fart that I'm going to sit here and deny that possibility.
From everything I've seen about the existing technology, though, it's just not ready for prime time. Range finding and calculating elevation adjustments are where these types of systems seem most effective currently and that's one of the easier aspects of long range shooting. That functionality is also already available in more proven platforms like the Barrett BORS.
I've read up on this thing before and it requires a manual wind input, which throws the notion that anybody can be a sniper out the window right off the bat. People will **** up their wind estimates and their ballistic solution will be off. Most importantly, if people don't understand marksmanship, they won't know how to fix it when the round doesn't hit where the magic computer said it would.
The functionality of the trigger seems to be a step in the right direction. It should eliminate trigger jerking, which is huge for accurate shot placement. I'd still be curious to see how much solid marksmanship fundamentals will come into play to make the shot. Maybe the rifle can truly send the round downrange when it's on target every time. I'm skeptical though. I'd have to see that with a novice shooter behind the gun. My instinct tells me that it will be difficult for a computer to overcome the effect of shooter movement, breathing, heartbeats, etc and do it accurately.
I think the problem these guys are going to have with this product is that the people who could make the most of it are trained shooters who don't need it in the first place and may even find it to be an annoying distraction. Novice shooters will be disappointed when they find out they still can't hit **** at long range because they don't know how to judge wind.
Maybe I'm wrong though and people will snatch 'em up like hotcakes. Really though, they should take all that extra money and learn a little bit about shooting if they want to hit stuff at long range. It's not that hard and it's a lot cheaper. Especially if they adjust their expectations down to 500 yards or so. That's a pretty long shot and if you make a wise caliber selection, you won't have that many windage problems out to 500 unless it's windy as hell.
I can see some potential here, but I'm just not excited yet and I sure as hell wouldn't pay a whole bunch of money for it. As for the legality - it should be legal technology.
Without gettiing into the gun lover/hunter aspects of this...
Isn't it really going to revolutionize warfare.
I mean...these guns don't even need a human to pull the trigger, right?
If this technology is automated...are we talking about the end of infantry as we know it?
Seems like a single smart gun could take on an army.
Next logical progression: the smart machine gun?
The world is not waiting for this technology to revolutionize the battlefield. Remotely operated weapons have been in use in the military for a long time.
Originally Posted by W. Rabbit
What about remotely operated weapons with "smarter" ballistics.
Originally Posted by Devil
It's the combination of Linux computing and riflery that interests me, a digital embedded targeting system "better" than a human operator, that is really interesting.
Some might even argue this makes for a safer weapon, right?
What about police applications, locking on a suspect in a crowd and being able to hit them precisely, at a distance, avoiding bystanders, using this tech?
I can understand how it would be difficult for a computer to account for shooter movement, etc., since there is some unpredictability involved, but why should wind input be a problem? Surely there is technology available that can take wind measurements and input the data into the targeting system?
Originally Posted by Devil
They can determine the wind at the rifle but not down range where it counts.
Originally Posted by CapnMunchh
Like I said in my first post, I'm not saying anything is impossible. I just see lots of hurdles with the technology. It's easy for everyone to get excited when marketing for a product exists but objective testing does not.
Originally Posted by W. Rabbit
I can't see the future better than anyone else, but based on my understanding of what seems to be going on with advances in weaponry, I would expect to see the guys who are working on smart ammo to win the high tech riflery race.
Smart ammo could theoretically clear all the hurdles by adjusting itself in flight. The people who make the ammo work will build the platforms to shoot it, and they'll control the smart gun market. Just my hunch.
This thing is going to be crap. "A person with no experience can fire it!" Sure, as long as they don't screw up on the trigger pull, breathing, have a good shooting position, and know they can't just place the bipods any ol' place they want (needs to be a soft resting position for the rifle). You can't get around teaching the fundamentals of shooting with a device like this, especially for long range shots. And what about factoring in wind and your elevation, or if the target is moving?
Another reason why I think this is garbage is because I've been privy to handle sophisticated equipment in the field before. It usually stays in the ruck sack because it got rattled around too much and doesn't work properly, is too complicated to operate, or just isn't practical enough. Not to mention nobody in their right mind wants to carry this kind of equipment as it usually weighs a crap ton and a half. As far as the military goes, it MIGHT find use on a base, but I can't see it being a practical weapon for patrols or overnight missions. I'm sure it needs batteries to operate as well. Thinking about my own experiences with carrying heavy crap on patrols, screw this thing! Just look at it, it's massive!
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