Last Century’s Guided Missile Steps Aside For This Guided Bullet

Here’s an image of a bullet’s path to the target. There’s a couple of things to note. First of all, this is not a tracer round, the projectile actually has an LED incorporated which was picked up as a trail in the long (relative to bullet speed) exposure. The second – and most obvious – thing to consider is the non-liner path it took to its objective. That’s because this is a laser guided bullet.

The smart bullet is a about four inches long and carries with it a light sensor, 8-bit processor, and some electromagnetic actuators. The tip is searching for a laser-painted target, with an algorithm calculating course corrections along the way and using the actuators to move fins which alter its path. For us the most interesting part is that this ammo requires a non-rifled barrel. The rifling spins the bullet as it leaves the firearm, which usually results in a straighter and more dependable path. But the microcontroller wouldn’t be able reliably steer if it were spinning.

We’d bet this ends up as a special sniper tool in video games before we hear about it on the battlefield. Check out a clip of the dart-like bullet leaving the muzzle in the clip after the break.


[Thanks Das_Coach]

115 thoughts on “Last Century’s Guided Missile Steps Aside For This Guided Bullet

  1. The video doesn’t really show much of the action though, does it? It seems like a standard shot, minus the whole break away of the casing in the beginning, there’s nothing saying that particular bullet is guided.

    1. You can’t just “drop” things from sattelites. Let go of something from orbit, and it just stays there, orbiting along with you. Now, you can throw it behind you, but you would need to cancel out your orbital velocity. So you would need to accellerate it to about 8km/second. Of course, you could just do it partway then let friction with the air take care of the rest, but you would still need to cancel out enough velocity to hit the air, and the friction is well.. intense.

      Not that these problems can’t be solved, and they have even been worked on. but the idea of ‘dropping’ things from orbit just doesn’t work.

  2. Actually, -all- bullets follow corkscrew paths like that. Go to a 600 yard range with a decent spotting scope on a hot day, you can see them do that by the wake they leave in the air. That’s one of the many reasons you have to zero a rifle to various distances when competing in target shooting. The path of the bullet varies sideways as well as up and down depending on the distance.

    Very cool concept though, laser guided bullets. Fun!

    1. You raised a good point, indeed. The bullets kinda skiff along and meander through the viscous air (after all, air’s fluid), almost like a skipping stone across a lake.

      I can’t help but think two different ways about this technology.

      The first is, holy crap this is awesome and I want it!

      The second is, OMG how much will this cost and how long before the machines become self-aware and kill us all with these?

      j/k Very cool, indeed.

      1. Seems like since it uses a laser targeting position as long as you can avoid being painted you’ll be fine. This is yet another reason why I always wear my tin foil hat around.

      2. I think he might have been commenting more in terms of spin drift, which is relatively predictable given a particular round and barrel. This is a long slow curl, not a “skipping” movement.

      3. Knowing the price of a bullet already (a .50BMG is about $5 a round, where .338 laupa mag is about $1 a round) and the average electronics prices, it’d probably cost close to $40 a round at least. and you’d need to make it about the size of a .50BMG to fit everything in there.

        There is seriously no way that this bullet is anything more than a proof of concept, or being used when you absolutely MUST kill that one guy. This wouldn’t be issued to shock troops, sniper teams, or anything short of that one super sniper getting 3 shots max from a super custom rifle.

    2. Oh ****, I forgot to put something I noticed in my last comment! >:(

      Anyhow, look closely at the bullet’s path, as outlined by that LED trace. Notice something interesting, especially in the larger image?

      I did: line segments. I think this is the bullet’s on-board controls making adjustments in a fixed time interval. How it performs that action, I’ve not a clue. I’m no rocket surgeon, but I think it just might be possible to piece together approximately how many adjustments this little guy is making based on this photo, and a little more information. Or am I completely off my nacho?

      Not that I intend to try and make one, but I like figuring out things like that. :3

      1. A different news article quoted “30 times a second” as the number of adjustments the bullet makes to its fins. That seems slow to me, but that is probably the limit of the physics and/or feedback system.

    3. @matt : Yes, I know it’s not, in terms of the physics involved remotely close. I meant in the way that it moves through the medium, i.e. its path ain’t linear, there’s tumbling, etc.

    4. The corkscrew contrails you see behind a bullet are more of a manifestation of the bullet spinning as it cuts the air, this means that the contrails appear twisted behind the bullet, despite the fact that the path of the bullet is a fairly consistent falling parabola, (Plus spin drift and wind deflection).

      Another way to consider this, is that if the bullet WAS in fact taking a spiral path to target, the amount of force to deflect that bullet constantly along that spiralled force would be unrealistically high to reasonably exist.

  3. What would make a lot more sense is to make this a heat seeking bullet. Your light source is the individual’s body heat. You might even be able to dial in the individuals thermal fingerprint before firing so that the bullet ignores bright and cold sources. A laser system seems impractical since you would need line of sight to even use it. The benefit of laser guided missiles is that personnel can get in close without having to carry the missile on their back. Whoever has the line of sight with the laser in this system might as well have a sniper rifle and take the shot.

    1. Heat seeking would be much harder to track than a specific wavelength from a laser painter. And the useful bit is that *everyone* could have a laser painter. Not everyone has a sniper rifle. As long as someone has line-of-sight to the target, one of these projectiles could find it’s mark, even if it was fired from somewhere completely different. Think of it more in terms of a laser guided bomb – Someone paints the target from one location, munitions come in from another location. The guy painting the target can be hidden much better, and doesn’t have the problem of having to fire and give away his position.

    2. The laser is useful despite requiring line of sight because it is accurate at a vastly greater distance than a standard round of ammunition fired from a rifle. Additionally, the electronics required for “heat-seeking” are much more complex and bulky than a simple “follow the bright light” sensor.

      1. I agree with mctibbs here, FAR too expensive to put heat seeking technology in a bullet.

        That is if it’s even possible to tell different potential targets apart using heat signatures alone. It almost seems as if you would need multiple methods of identifying your target to make that work.

  4. This is a concept from the 90s! Totally old stuff just dug out for a second time. The problem with this stuff is, that the bullet is too fast for corrections. In the end there is little bonus compared to a regular sniper scope, especially since in a functioning weapon the bullet has to be shot from something else than the designator. So you need 2 guns. Maybe the spotter could do the job or so.

    1. Sort of like a sniper team with a spotter and shooter. Or in this case a “painter” and shooter. I like that idea. You’d need to mount the laser to keep it steady but that’s what adjustable tripods are for.

    2. Who says the spotter has to be a human? An ROV or drone could get in close and paint the target (probably better than a human could) and a remote shooter (again, not necessarily human) could fire the bullet.

      It’s interesting because this could be scaled up to larger bullets. This would probably be more useful as an anti-tank or anti-equipment round than an anti-personnel.

    3. Rubbish, since the bullet can only move and acquire in a limited way and cone the laser has to be on the weapon that fires it.
      It’s the same as anti-tank weapons, you fire but keep it on the target until it’s hit (or a few seconds have passed and it clearly missed.)

    1. Yes! This is the first thing I thought of when I saw the headline. Awesome movie for those that haven’t seen it. Cool robots in the movie, too. The bullets in this movie did track to a specific person’s “thermal profile”, though. Since every health person has a body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, it seems unrealistic to use this one attribute as the source of the targeting vector…

  5. I wonder if the current anti laser systems will work against this thing. Similar to the Sanders AN/ALQ-144 Infrared Countermeasures you see mounted on military helicopters. Gives laser guided munitions too many targets to choose from.

    Secondly, the problem with making it heat seeking is desert terrain. A human being just doesn’t throw enough of a differential to spot in 100+ degree weather to provide a reliable target. That’s why most heat seeking weapons end up targeting exhaust stacks and heat blooms.

    Given the bullet is 4 inches long the casing must be huge. I don’t think we’ll see this outside specialized units in the military or if we do it will be a platform system. For laser guided weapon to work the one doing the painting has to have a steady hand. Heartbeats make that difficult at extreme ranges. You may fire between beats, but you can’t keep your heart still for the entire flight time. Try holding a laser pointer absolutely still, that dot on the wall is going to tremble. Now think of that trembling at 1000 yards.

    1. Having spent the last few days behind an M2 .50 cal, lugging ammo cans, and cleaning up brass I’d say its no smaller than a .50, judging from the one being held up for size comparison on their site. Could be a .60 like an elephant round.

  6. i have an idea, you have a machine gun (which could be a couple miles away) loaded with these, each round in the clip tuned to a specific wavelength, then you have a squad each with a laser tuned to a round in the clip. they could go out designate an entire squad of hostile soldiers. once they all got their targets then you can pretty much take em all out with one short burst, before any of them have time to react. this would be very useful for specops missions.

      1. I am deadly serious. Everything I’ve ever seen you say about American soldiers falls squarely in the category of bigoted hate speech.

        Or would you like to explain to my best friend’s two-year-old daughter why her daddy has to die?

        Also, my experience has been that the knee-jerk reaction of calling one’s opponent a “troll” is the last defense of the troll and the moron.

  7. Disgusting. Just yet another way we’ve developed for killing each other, instead of progressing forward and doing worthwhile endeavors.

    Pretty much literally every cent we spend on these horrific things and ways of killing each other off is stolen from education, progressive research, exploration, discovery, or solving social problems, feeding the starving, etc.

    The so called ‘defense’ industry should be ashamed of themselves.

      1. Necessity being the mother of invention probably has quite a bit to do with that. Something about saving the lives of “our” guys even if it means end the lives of our enemies has a lot of necessity. Not to mention government resources are probably more easily allocated to internal branches such as the military, cia etc, than civilian contracts.

    1. Without this kind of investment, the US would not be the superpower, and world leader that it is today. I don’t know if you are American, but it makes a difference to get to the technology before the other guy does. Remember the Cold War? The arms races continue, and will never stop.

      1. The cold war was a terrifying and stupid waste of time, and trillions of money-units.

        Do YOU remember the cold war? Were you there? I remember being a very serious kid in the 80s, realising I might blink at any moment, and be vapourised before I un-blunk.

        Everyone in the world lived like that. And for what reason? The Russians are everybody’s friends now. There is no cold war, and it’s better. Nobody won the cold war. The USSR disintegrated internally, and hopefully we all realised later that nobody really wanted to vapourise anybody. Except a few bunker-bound senile generals on both sides, and in James Bond films.

    2. Good troll is good.

      A small selection of the defense budget actually does improve our lives, just like NASA gave us technology like calculators. Personally, I like guns, and I like technology.

      What this is, is more or less a tiny missile. Just shrinking technology down further.

      1. It’s true, NASA gave us all sorts of great technology. If we’d spent all the war money on space exploration, men might be on Mars by now, and we’d have all sorts of fantastic technology.

        The only arguable benefit militaries give to technology, is trauma medicine, since they tend to have a need for a lot of it. Even this could be researched much more cheaply by civilians.

        War is stupid, militaries are stupid, and in many Western countries the militaries have gotten out of control. There’s too many soldiers with too much stuff. Who do we need cutting-edge jet fighters to fight? Who are we going to nuke with the thousands of nukes? Going to war with a bunch of desert peasants needs not much more than a good rifle.

        If we spent the money on raising the standard of living in Afghanistan, they’d throw the Taliban out themselves. If everybody has money, there’s less corruption. It always happens. People desire a comfortable life full of consumer goodness, and in many countries it’s led to the end of religious nonsense and intolerance. All rich countries practice social tolerance and keep their religion in it’s place.

      2. Just to TL;DR myself…

        If you could drive to an office job in the morning, then come back and watch TV in your comfortable house with the kids, how keen would you be to blow yourself up for some asshole priest?

  8. “Wanted” bullet curving just became possible. I wonder what the FOV is on finding the laser. I didn’t catch it in the article. Could it be fired at a high angle and then arc back down over or around cover?

    1. I imagine it would have to be fired pretty directly at the LASER itself. The size of the sensor wouldn’t allow for it to view a very wide angle (relatively), and it can probably only see what is directly in front of it. Curving around objects isn’t going to happen, because it can’t see the LASER around that corner, to know to go that way. The arcing would be pretty cool, but if the LASER doesn’t reflect the light at an angle viewable from above, again it doesn’t work.

      It’s Line of Sight.

    1. And snipers are pretty good already. I don’t see what the market for this bullet is. As someone pointed out, you can only project a laser line-of-sight anyway. Just get someone who can shoot to fire the bullet in the first place.

  9. I wonder whether the final intention is to have a sniper doing the targeting…It seems one would still have to have impeccable aim in order to hit the target since a bullet moves at such a fast speed and over such a short distance compared to a missile, you’d have to be pretty steady with the laser. Not to mention i’d imagine this method of steering shortens it’s usable distance.

    However, if a machine were tracking a moving target and aiming the laser…

    1. True but I think the situation also calls for synchronization between the shooter and the painter. you could, in theory, push the range of this system to the extremes of its range by positioning the spotter ahead of the shooter. By reducing the distance a shot is targeted/designated from it makes it possible to keep the bead on target without betraying ones position. Consequently at ranges in excess of 3+ miles (well inside the effective range of a .50) enemies wouldn’t be able to tell where the shot came from other than a general comparison to the impact site, i.e. the divot. A shooter and a painter wouldn’t even have to be in each others line of fire. If they where looking at the same FOV the spotter could be nearly perpendicular to their targets while the more distant shooter could send rounds without endangering the spotter; either by accidentally fragging him or giving away his position in the report.

      Interesting concept with machine stabilized targeting, I’m pretty sure that they have areal designators on the Predictors and F-22 laser modules, or at the very least man portable designators with software stabilization similar to steady cam in a consumer product. The military managed to laser designate missiles with the Phalanx, albeit IR, and had to dumb it down because it was so accurate the damn thing was targeting the warheads and hitting them. Conventional wisdom says that’s a good thing but coming off the heels of the cold war they decided to aim for the propulsion. Wikipedia says nothing about this because its a little known fact ^^;

  10. One one hand I hate to see more money that could be spent on schools and infrastructure be put into weapon systems. On the other hand, abstaining from the arms race didn’t work out so well for the native Americans. Lets say military weapons are okay, crowd control less so.

      1. Follow the money, hatemonger.

        Winter coats, automobiles, the latest in computer and energy-saving technology have all been advanced by money spent trying to find ways to protect men and women who put their lives in the line of fire so that you can sit here and talk about how they’re a bunch of baby-eating nazis.

        Increases in school funding are rarely, if ever, seen by the students. Or the teachers, for that matter.

      1. It wasn’t about the previous VP, it was about the various Gulf Wars. Allied troops were in as much danger from being killed by boneheaded US troops as they were from the enemy.

    1. Actually, Anon, guided bombs and missiles (with rocket propulsion) have been around since 1968 and 1972 respectively.

      The novelty of this is in its size and portability. My odds of going undetected increase greatly when I don’t have to fly a plane nearby.

  11. While I don’t see this being a sniper platform, because it’s more than keeping a dot on target involved, this could be a good area of effect anti personnel and anti-vehicle system.

    As for technology and warfare or tyranny, and the political aspects, it was the proliferation of the gun that made it possible for farmers to lay aside their plows and stand up for their freedom. Prior to that, you needed a lifetime of training and funds to be a man-at-arms or knight, and so it was during the days of feudalism: the state had the monopoly on training and melee systems. The rifle could take one lead ball and fell a 1-ton warhorse that took a lot of gold and training to field, or take down the rider, who also took a lot of funds and training.
    Now, as we see technology advance, the state is once more having a monopoly on weaponry and training for them. Now we have the NDAA, SOPA and PIPA, ACTA, PATRIOT Act, and austerity measures targeting nations busted out by bankers that will make the masses poor while the “royals” of our times live it up.

    Nothing really changes.

    We should rejoice whenever people with limited funds and “hacks” manage to create things on the level of the state, without the overhead. All war, even wars of liberty versus tyranny, are economic wars. If “they” spend 50 dollars a round for this laser guided bullet and some college kids find a way to do this with 10 dollars worth of diode, salvaged DVDR sled, and servo, the state loses.

    1. Man I was so ready to disagree with you, then you took the words right out of my mouth. The narrow definition of a legal civilian weapon has hardly changed, while the classes of exotic weapon systems available to world powers forever grows.

      Consider the old “gun behind every blade of grass quote” beloved in it’s crowd, does that still hold true in the age of drones and infrared cameras?

  12. Sounds cool, but its a waste of funding

    Normal bullets are already expensive as it is, and since international-ordinances are banning lead-based bullets, the prices for the lead-free alternatives will only go up.

    Its like the 6.8 SPC by Remington; a great bullet, but at a $1.00 a round, its too expensive to see any mass use until its adopted as a standard munition – and that’s if its adopted!

    All in all, much of the stuff you see, like “how awesome drones are” and “how the new Chinese bullet is amazing”, is just hype. American M1A1 Abrams tanks are still outfitted with cannons that cannot engage other tanks. And while NATO salivated over Chobam, armor using that system was still getting shredded by the age-old RPG-7 (in one report, an RPG-2 from WWII lol). Sure they have to use more rockets or make every shot count, but doesn’t that hold true in any engagement?

    The only Country I see able to field this type of munition economically, would be either Korea or China. Russia too perhaps, but I dunno if they use the same electronic standards as the rest of the world.

  13. This is clearly designed only to usable by an integrated automatic system utilizing machine vision and identification, it would then be able to track slight motion of targets in range in a fashion similar to a human using a scope.

    It should be fairly obvious why this is not a good thing, and I’m not talking about the Terminator series.

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