Aiming is for chumps. If only someone would invent a rifle that takes all the hassle out of shooting somebody.
Since mankind first perfected the rifle, it's been the go-to killing tool for hunters, soldiers and psychotic hillbillies alike. The reason? It's a nearly idiot proof mechanism. If you want something dead you simply point and click (much like a computer's mouse, only with more residual blood splatter). Despite this (or perhaps as a testament to man's enduring laziness), Austin, Texas-based tech firm TrackingPoint has opted to build a rifle that does all that pesky aiming for you, while also offering a number of thoughtful modern accoutrements.
Officially dubbed the "Precision Guided Firearm" - a name you might recognize from this earlier article on the weapons system - TrackingPoint's new $22,000 rifle utilizes a guidance system not unlike that seen in fighter jets. Using a laser range finder, a high-definition camera system and an onboard computer, the PGF automatically collects data and alters its shot based on all kinds of environmental factors (wind speed, target distance, humidity). All the user needs do is select a target, then press a button near the gun's trigger.
This is where things take a turn for the futuristic. Once that button is pressed, the PGF begins actively tracking whichever target you've decided needs to catch a bullet. As the target moves, the gun adjusts its calculations, and provides the shooter with cues on where they should shift their aim. Once you want to dispatch the target, you simply pull the trigger to fire. Even this aspect proves technologically impressive though, as the PGF increases the pressure necessary to pull its trigger until the barrel is perfectly aligned with whatever ideal position the gun's computer has determined, making it difficult to even intentionally miss.
Oh, but the PGF's list of features doesn't end there! This being the modern era, everything is Wifi-enabled, and this gun is no exception. Assuming you have a smartphone or computer - if you're dropping over 20 grand on a rifle, you can probably afford a netbook - you can task the PGF to send high-definition images of whatever it spies with its onboard targeting camera directly to your gadget of choice.
Of course, the crucial question here is how effective the rifle is at actually hitting distant targets, and in that regard, it's proven impressively, dangerously well-designed. According to TrackingPoint, the PGF has been able to hit targets at ranges at far as 900 meters when operated by novice shooters.
This is where things get controversial. Having seen the PGF in action, some experts worry that it removes all the skill from sniping, and could be too dangerous a weapon for civilians to reasonably own.
"This new smart rifle puts too much power into the civilian world," says British smart weaponry analyst Noel Sharkey. "Being a sniper is a very specialised role and requires a great deal of training - but now anyone can be an accurate assassin and at long ranges, too."
Dr. Matthew Lang of Ohio's Xavier University agrees with Sharkey, but was kind enough to address the gigantic, politically dangerous elephant in the room: The PGF makes it exceedingly easy for any individual to become the next Lee Harvey Oswald, without spending years in the Marine Corps. "If it starts to find its way to individuals that plan to use it for other purposes, there will be a lot of time and money spent figuring out how to secure any public area if the number of possible snipers has significantly increased," Lang states.
It's very easy to see the myriad ways in which the Precision Guided Firearm could prove potentially dangerous, but it's likely unrealistic of us to shun the concept entirely. Have you seen our science fiction? Weapons like this (and even fully autonomous designs) are going to happen at some point, whether we like it or not. There's just too much money and too much concern for soldiers' lives on the part of military R&D for this technological path to go unexplored.
Whether that inevitability is exciting or terrifying comes down to personal preference, but personally I can't wait for the day when instead of changing the channel on my TV (like a sucker!) I can instead just punch a code into my phone to command my ceiling-mounted turret to fire off incendiary shells into the side of the set until old Sifl & Olly reruns start playing on loop.
If all of this talk of futuristic murder systems has you excited, watch the clip embedded at top. It's an official highlight reel courtesy TrackingPoint that's a bit overtly "sci-fi," but does a solid enough job of demonstrating how the PGF functions in the field.
Source: New Scientist