Smart gun makes impossible shots possible

[cleeng_content id="363728006" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]GLENGARY – I have no business making a half-mile shot. None at all. I have been shooting on and off since I was a child, but I never made the effort to run through all the complex calculations usually needed to make a shot at that distance. The maximum distance I shoot to is closer to 200 yards, and I’m not great there.

But earlier this month, I made a shot of over 1,000 yards on my first try. I can’t take much credit for it, though. I was trying out a new “smart gun” from Austin, Texas manufacturer TrackingPoint.

Making a 1,000 yard shot is not just about steady aim. It involves a bunch of math problems.

For a 1,000 yard shot using a .338 Lapua Magnum, the gun I was shooting, it takes more than a full second from the time the shot is fired until it hits its target. During that time the bullet will drop about 16 feet due to gravity. Wind can push the bullet a few feet in any direction. Atmospheric effects like temperature, pressure and humidity can cause the bullet to slow down, making it drop even further. An effect called spin drift, similar to the force that makes a curve ball to break, will cause the bullet to pull to the side by around a foot.

TrackingPoint's new line of smart rifles enable inexperienced shooters to make shots at previously unimaginable distances.

TrackingPoint’s new line of smart rifles enable inexperienced shooters to make shots at previously unimaginable distances.

Even the rotation of the Earth affects the shot. Depending on the direction you are facing, the Coriolis effect – as the effect of the planet’s rotation during the time the bullet is in flight is called – can cause the shot to rise, fall, or pull to the left or right by several inches.

All of these have to be taken into account to make an accurate long distance shot. TrackingPoint’s innovation is to attach a rangefinder, along with a plethora of sensors, and a computer into a digital scope that is able automatically correct for this wide variety of factors. The shooter now only has to guess the speed and direction of the wind.

On the morning I went out to the Peacemaker National Training Center, I had missed my alarm clock and had no chance to catch breakfast. I was tired and a bit shaky. Looking through the scope at a target 1,000 yards downrange, those tiny shakes are magnified into massive swings all around the target. There was no way I was going to make this shot.

I had seen the videos on TrackingPoint’s website. I saw the new-fangled video game-style heads-up display that allows you to first mark a target in the digital scope and then to match up a corrected reticle with a red target marker.

But I didn’t really think it would work.

“A rifle that comes with a iPad,” I laughed to myself. “A gun with WiFi. This is a gimmick.”

I was wrong.

When I sat down to shoot it, the biggest surprise was that the rifle does not actually fire when you pull the trigger. Once you have marked your target using a small button above the trigger, the reticle drops away from the marker as it calculates where the bullet will hit. You move the reticle back toward the target and, when you are close, you squeeze the trigger. This arms the gun, but does not cause it to shoot.

Now, as I mentioned, I was shaky that morning. My reticle was bouncing all over the place. Probably the smartest innovation of TrackingPoint’s rifle is that it is able to anticipate when my reticle would cross through the target. It decided when to fire the shot, taking my shakiness right out of the equation.

The gun fired suddenly and I waited for what seemed like a minute. Then the loud ping of lead hitting the steel target echoed back through the hills. I was dumbfounded.

“You just stepped into a different category,” said Darren Jones. “Guys that are new come out and shoot and say, ‘Wow. That was cool.’ Guys that are long distance shooters, come out and do it, and they walk away sad. They say, ‘Wow. You’ve completely invalidated my life’s work.’”

Jones said his company has produced studies showing that the new smart rifle greatly increases accuracy, especially on the first shot. Army studies show, he said, that first-shot accuracy among trained distance marksmen at 500 yards tends to be around 50 percent, and at 1,000 yards it drops to 10 percent. With a TrackingPoint rifle, he claims, first-shot accuracy at 1,000 yards increases to 80 percent.

The gun even calculates lead time for targets moving up to 10 miles per hour.

Jones said that one of most important ways it increases accuracy is by using its laser rangefinder to find the exact distance of a target, rather than relying on a shooter’s estimation.

He pointed out the nearest target on the range, on a hill above a steep valley that dipped out of sight, and asked me to guess how far it was. I guessed 150 yards. Jones, a retired Marine marksman and regular distance shooter, said he had guessed between 175 and 200 yards.

The rangefinder showed it was, in fact, 303 yards away. The fact that the range dipped out of sight and then re-emerged, Jones said, creates an optical illusion which makes the target appear closer than it really is.

“Range estimation is usually what makes people miss,” he said. “The laser does not lie.”

TrackingPoint has made a major, paradigm-shifting innovation with this first line of smart guns. Currently, they cost between $20,000 and $30,000 dollars – a prohibitive expense for most shooters. But, as with all technology, it will probably get much cheaper over time.

The distance shooting world is going to look very different in 10 years.[/cleeng_content]

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