DARPA’s New Sniper Rifle Offers a Perfect Shot Across 12 Football Fields
“Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes,” American revolutionaries supposedly yelled at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Legend has it that the rebels were trying to conserve ammunition, given the inaccuracy of their 18th century guns.
But things have come a long way since 1775. With DARPA’s new “One Shot” sniper system [PDF], scheduled to be in soldier’s hands by the fall of 2011, the U.S. military will give snipers the ability to take out an enemy at a distance of .7 miles in winds around 10 to 20 miles per hour. Military brass hopes the system will give snipers a perfect shot at least six times out of ten.
The One Shot system still wouldn’t come close to matching the record for shooting accuracy: In November of last year, British Army sniper Corporal Craig Harrison made two shots at a distance of 1.53 miles in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. But Harrison modestly thanked perfect shooting conditions: no wind, great visibility, and mild weather. The DARPA program aims to give soldiers the technology to hit a target despite adverse conditions.
To meet that goal, engineers first had to figure out what to do about wind. The prototype gun can’t get rid of the wind, but it needs to correct for it. Otherwise, over long distances, the bullets will veer off course; DARPA notes that a 10 mph crosswind can produce a miss even at a distance of a quarter of a mile.
The One Shot sniper scope has a computer system that uses lasers to track not only distance, but also the wind turbulence in the path of the bullet. A set of crosshairs appears not in direct line with the gun’s barrel, but instead where the bullet will actually hit, and also displays the confidence of that shot.
US military trials have found that a laser beam shone on the target can do more than just determine the range: it can also be used to “measure the average down range crosswind profile”. The laser information can be combined with automatic readings of temperature, humidity etc and a “ballistic solution” computed. [The Register]
But there’s more work to be done on the One Shot system before it arrives in combat zones. These high-tech systems can’t require a lot of training or give off a lot of heat.
What the agency really wants is a battle-ready system that doesn’t require tricky in-field optical alignment and fiddling with lasers. Night and day accuracy also means that the laser, which is used to help calculate and subtract wind turbulence between the predator and his prey, can’t be infrared. Enemies with night-vision goggles would see that from a mile away. [Wired]
DARPA has just finished its first phases of the project, developing and testing the computer targeting system. Among other things, the next steps include making the system the right size and weight for battle, and completing some tweaks to the target crosshairs. With these improvements, according to a DARPA announcement this month, the Agency will ask for 15 “fully operational and field hardened systems” for field testing.
80beats: Police May Soon Use Pain Guns That Heat Skin With Microwaves
80beats: DARPA Loses Contact with Mach 20 “Hypersonic Glider” During Test Flight
80beats: MIT Team Uses 4,600 Informants to Win DARPA Scavenger Hunt
Science Not Fiction: District 9: Smart Guns That Read Your DNA
Image: flickr / The U.S. Army
May 25th, 2010 2:23 PM Tags: computers, DARPA, gadgets, guns, weapons & security
by Joseph Calamia in Technology http://mblogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/05/25/darpas-new-sniper-rifle-offers-a-perfect-shot-across-12-football-fields/
Police May Soon Use Pain Guns That Heat Skin With Microwaves
In several years police officers may have laser or microwave guns to point at miscreants, according to the Justice Department’s research and development agency. These nonlethal weapons build on knowledge gained from the Pentagon’s controversial Active Denial System (ADS) – first demonstrated in public last year, which uses a 2-metre-[wide] beam of short microwaves to heat up the outer layer of a person’s skin and cause pain. Like the ADS, the new portable devices will also heat the skin, but will have beams only a few centimetres across. They are designed to elicit what the Pentagon calls a “repel response” – a strong urge to escape from the beam [New Scientist]. But the idea of giving cops a tool capable of instantly inflicting pain from across a town square is raising protests from human rights advocates.
The Justice Department is working on two separate weapons. One, the Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response, or PHaSR, uses an infra-red laser to heat a patch of skin about 4 inches in diameter, and pairs that heat with another bright laser that dazzles the eyes. The PHaSR looks like a bulky rifle, and law enforcement officials say that a cheap, portable version could be very useful to police and prison guards. Sid Heal, formerly a Commander in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (and before that a Marine) , has long been an advocate of non-lethal weapons and thinks the new devices might have potential. “Needless to say, the “market” is so vacant with alternatives that ANYTHING is going to be appealing at this point” [Wired News], says Heal.
The other weapon is a scaled down version of the Pentagon’s Active Denial System, and uses a microwave beam to heat the target’s skin. This device isn’t as far along as the PHaSR–so far it’s a tabletop prototype with a range of about a meter–but researchers say it could ultimately be more effective, as its waves are better able to penetrate clothing and heat the skin underneath. But some critics say that the more effective these devices are, the less they like them. Security expert Steve Wright … describes the new weapons as “torture at the touch of a button”. “We have grave concerns about the deployment and use of any such devices, which have the potential to be used for torture or other ill treatment,” says Amnesty International’s arms control researcher Helen Hughes [New Scientist].
There’s no word yet on when these weapons might be tested in city streets or prison corridors, and many ambivalent commentators seem content to have the ray guns confined to the Justice Department’s labs for the time being. Says one pundit: It’s good news that the police are developing weapons that don’t kill people, but when you look at the way police are all-too-eager to use Tasers, you might consider whether this is a good thing or not. We’re thinking they can be either good or bad, depending on who wields them. While we’re wondering why we can’t all get along, we’re also thinking to ourselves, “Don’t microwave me, bro!” [DVICE].
80beats: Military Tests New Missile Defense System: Lasers Mounted on Jumbo Jets
DISCOVER: Dude, Where’s My Jetpack? explores how close we are to having jetpacks and ray guns
DISCOVER: War Without Death follows the military’s search for nonlethal weapons
Image: U.S. Air Force
December 29th, 2008 4:36 PM Tags: Defense Department, Justice Department, lasers, weapons & security
by Eliza Strickland in Technology http://mblogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2008/12/29/police-may-soon-use-pain-guns-that-heat-skin-with-microwaves/
District 9: Smart Guns That Read Your DNA
It’s not much of a spoiler to say the aliens in District 9have the snazziest trigger lock around. The Prawns, as they are known in the movie, have some strange ideas for safety, though. Their trigger lock is DNA-encoded not to keep little Prawns away from dangerous gear, but to prevent any other species from activating the weapons. (That’s the sort of detail that raises all sorts of questions about just who the Prawns were fighting that they needed this kind of security, and whether the enemy also had DNA-locked rifles.)
While the Prawns seem to have mastered DNA-detecting technology, it remains a bit beyond our reach out here in the real, human world. But that may be the next big frontier in biometrics. Because, let’s face it, the typical kinds of biometric security used in of the lairs of movie super-villains isn’t science-fiction anymore—it’s reality.
Fingerprint scan? We can do that on a laptop, or even a mere thumb drive. Palm scan? Pssh. Placing a hand on the scanner is passé. Retinal scan? Of course. Facial recognition? Voice recognition? Done and done. All of these different biometrics has been exploited by security companies trying to make money in a world where verifying authenticity is becoming an increasing problem. But the biological signature big business and national governments really want to capture is DNA. Unlike our faces and voices, it never changes. Unlike our fingerprints, it’s very difficult to fake. And except for identical twins, it’s totally unique to each individual (and it may soon be possible to distinguish even identical twins [pdf]). Because this technology would be so valuable, everyone from the Austrian national government to major corporations is toiling away (pdf) in their R&D departments to develop a DNA biometric lock.
But fear not, defenders of privacy: Science is still reasonably far (pdf) from using DNA for a biometric lock. First, there’s the sampling problem. There was a time when the only way to get a useful DNA sample was to get a drop of blood or a swab of tissue from inside the person’s mouth. And while it would probably be fair to force Tom Cruise to prick his finger every time he wanted to gain entry to the Mindhead—err, the Scientology—err, his secret hideaway, useful DNA can be extracted from skin cells just by using a simple adhesive piece of paper. Still, not optimal for a lock and key device.
Then the DNA has to be amplified and sequenced. It’s a staple of Hollywood crime shows that DNA this process can be accomplished in a matter of minutes, but in reality it takes hours to run the polymerase chain reaction. Then the amplified DNA has to be sequenced, and only then can it be matched up to an encoded “lock” to see if the person can be admitted. Again, watching Tom Cruise stand fuming for three hours outside the fortress of solitude is a pleasing thought, but it’s not really going to happen.
Still, there are a number of other DNA-oriented tricks companies are trying. Applied DNA Sciences, a company in Stony Brook, NY, has discovered a way to layer plant DNA into one-of-a-kind objects, like art work, or antiques, that they swear will have no effect on the object. They also can layer the DNA into ink and toner, allowing the possibility of printing money or credit cards with a DNA signature that could be read with a special scanner.
Of course, the fast way to figure this stuff out would be to reverse-engineer some handy alien weapons and see just what makes the weapons work or not work. Did the human scientists in District 9 think of that? Well, that would be a spoiler, now wouldn’t it?
September 15th, 2009 Tags: biometrics, District 9, DNA, Tom Cruise
by Eric Wolff in Biotech http://mblogs.discovermagazine.com/sciencenotfiction/2009/09/15/district-9-the-dna-key-to-that-trigger-lock/
MIT Team Uses 4,600 Informants to Win DARPA Scavenger Hunt
How long does it take to solve a nationwide scavenger hunt? If you’re a bunch of MIT whiz kids, just less than nine hours.
As DISCOVER covered last week, DARPA, the Defense Department’s mad scientists, devised a contest to study the spread of information with $40,000 of prize money for the winning team. The task was to be the first to find all 10 red balloons scattered at secret locations around the country and report them to the DARPA Web site.
More than 4,000 groups eventually registered to take part, but although the organisers had given players up to nine days to track the balloons down, the team from MIT scooped victory within nine hours of the launch [The Guardian]. MIT’s team members set up an elaborate web of incentives and information networks to solve the puzzle so quickly. $4,000 in prize money was assigned to each of the 10 balloons–$2,000 for the first person to see one, and slightly less for each person in the information chain who led that person to the MIT team.
In all, MIT received contributions from more than 4,600 people. “They got a huge amount of participation from shockingly little money,” said Peter Lee, a DARPA project manager who was one of the organizers of the Network Challenge [The New York Times]. Perhaps, though, the widespread help leading to swift victory shouldn’t be a shock: People do love scavenger hunts.
The team has yet to announce the exact details about how the operation found each balloon—or whether there was any friendly skulduggery afoot. “It’s a huge game theory simulation,” said Norman Whitaker of DARPA’s Transformational Convergence Technology Office. The only way to win the hunt was to find the location of every balloon, but a savvy participant would withhold his sighting until he’d amassed the other nine locations, or disseminate false information to throw others off the trail [San Francisco Chronicle].http://mblogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2009/12/07/mit-team-uses-4600-informants-to-win-darpa-scavenger-hunt/
DARPA Loses Contact with Mach 20 “Hypersonic Glider” During Test Flight
It was a big week for experimental military aircraft, with the Air Force’s secretive X-37B space plane and the Navy’s biofuel-powered “Green Hornet” both achieving successful test flights. But the most ambitious—the HTV-2 hypersonic glider under development by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—lost contact with its operators during its run.
Launched from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. on April 22, the unmanned HTV-2 was planned to cross the Pacific and impact the ocean north of Kwajalein Atoll in the first of two flights to demonstrate technology for a prompt global strike weapon [Aviation Week]. It successfully achieved separation from its booster rocket high in the atmosphere; however, nine minutes into the test the glider lost communication. Now the military is studying the test flight telemetry to figure out where the HTV-2 would have crashed down.
Thursday’s mission was the first of two planned in the HTV-2 program, which uses Minotaur 4 boosters developed by Orbital Sciences Corp. from decommissioned Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missiles. The U.S. military is trying to develop technology to respond to threats around the globe at speeds of Mach 20 or greater, according to DARPA [AP]. DARPA is being fairly tight-lipped about possible uses for the HTV-2, but it’s not hard to see why the military would be excited about an aircraft that travels about 13,000 miles per hour and can strike on the other side of the world with “little or no advanced warning,” as the agency says.
Program manager Paul Erbland says the key to HTV-2 flying at such speed and height is its carbon shell, which is capable of withstanding extreme heat and pressure. It doesn’t burn off material to get rid of heat. The vehicle is designed to fly at a low angle of attack relative to other hypersonic vehicles. “Shuttle and similar vehicles fly at roughly 40°; HTV-2 is substantially below that,” he said [Aviation Week]. As for the communications failure, DARPA has some time to address the problem before the craft’s second planned test flight next March.http://mblogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/04/27/darpa-loses-contact-with-mach-20-hypersonic-glider-during-test-flight/