Self-guided bullet prototype can hit target a mile away

Jan 30, 2012
A tiny light-emitting diode, or LED, attached to a self-guided bullet at Sandia National Laboratories shows a bright path during a nighttime field test that proved the battery and electronics could survive the bullet's launch. (Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)

Take two Sandia National Laboratories engineers who are hunters, get them talking about the sport and it shouldn’t be surprising when the conversation leads to a patented design for a self-guided bullet that could help war fighters. (Click here for a video showing the prototype’s flight.)

Sandia researchers Red Jones and Brian Kast and their colleagues have invented a dart-like, self-guided bullet for small-caliber, smooth-bore firearms that could hit laser-designated targets at distances of more than a mile (about 2,000 meters).

“We have a very promising technology to guide small projectiles that could be fully developed inexpensively and rapidly,” Jones said.

Sandia is seeking a private company partner to complete testing of the prototype and bring a guided bullet to the marketplace.

Researchers have had initial success testing the design in computer simulations and in field tests of prototypes, built from commercially available parts, Jones said.

While engineering issues remain, “we’re confident in our science base and we’re confident the engineering-technology base is there to solve the problems,” he said.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
A video showing the prototype’s flight.

Sandia’s design for the four-inch-long bullet includes an optical sensor in the nose to detect a laser beam on a target. The sensor sends information to guidance and control electronics that use an algorithm in an eight-bit central processing unit to command electromagnetic actuators. These actuators steer tiny fins that guide the bullet to the target.

Most bullets shot from rifles, which have grooves, or rifling, that cause them to spin so they fly straight, like a long football pass. To enable a bullet to turn in flight toward a target and to simplify the design, the spin had to go, Jones said.

The bullet flies straight due to its aerodynamically stable design, which consists of a center of gravity that sits forward in the projectile and tiny fins that enable it to fly without spin, just as a dart does, he said.

Computer aerodynamic modeling shows the design would result in dramatic improvements in accuracy, Jones said. Computer simulations showed an unguided bullet under real-world conditions could miss a target more than a half mile away (1,000 meters away) by 9.8 yards (9 meters), but a guided bullet would get within 8 inches (0.2 meters), according to the patent.

Plastic sabots provide a gas seal in the cartridge and protect the delicate fins until they drop off after the bullet emerges from the firearm’s barrel.

The prototype does not require a device found in guided missiles called an inertial measuring unit, which would have added substantially to its cost. Instead, the researchers found that the bullet’s relatively small size when compared to guided missiles “is helping us all around. It’s kind of a fortuitous thing that none of us saw when we started,” Jones said.

The four-inch-long bullet has actuators that steer tiny fins that guide it to its target. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

As the bullet flies through the air, it pitches and yaws at a set rate based on its mass and size. In larger guided missiles, the rate of flight-path corrections is relatively slow, so each correction needs to be very precise because fewer corrections are possible during flight. But “the natural body frequency of this bullet is about 30 hertz, so we can make corrections 30 times per second. That means we can overcorrect, so we don’t have to be as precise each time,” Jones said.

Testing has shown the electromagnetic actuator performs well and the bullet can reach speeds of 2,400 feet per second, or Mach 2.1, using commercially available gunpowder. The researchers are confident it could reach standard military speeds using customized gunpowder.

And a nighttime field test, in which a tiny light-emitting diode, or LED, was attached to the bullet showed the battery and electronics can survive flight, Jones said.

Researchers also filmed high-speed video of the bullet radically pitching as it exited the barrel. The bullet pitches less as it flies down range, a phenomenon known to long-range firearms experts as “going to sleep.” Because the bullet’s motions settle the longer it is in flight, accuracy improves at longer ranges, Jones said.

“Nobody had ever seen that, but we’ve got high-speed video photography that shows that it’s true,” he said.

Potential customers for the include the military, law enforcement and recreational shooters.

In addition to Jones and Kast, Sandia researchers who helped develop the technology are: engineer Brandon R. Rohrer, aerodynamics expert Marc W. Kniskern, mechanical designer Scott E. Rose, firearms expert James W. Woods and Ronald W. Greene, a guidance, control and simulation engineer.

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User comments : 45

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Telekinetic
2.3 / 5 (15) Jan 30, 2012
If you use it to hunt game, where's the sport in that? I suppose it could prevent the accidental shooting of other hunters by idiots who shouldn't be hunting in the first place.
Jeddy_Mctedder
2.2 / 5 (10) Jan 30, 2012
sniper school will now focus on tracking and identification . no more precision shooting skills!
Doug_Huffman
1.8 / 5 (19) Jan 30, 2012
Gun control by economic disability.

Good people ought to be armed as they will, with wits and Guns and the Truth.
ccr5Delta32
1 / 5 (1) Jan 30, 2012
I've seen one of these before on Merry Melodies . Their called sneaky bullets
bcode
5 / 5 (2) Jan 30, 2012
@Telekinetic: Not really the primary area of interest... Even though the article starts with a tongue and cheek reference to hunting, this is obviously a military application development.
Husky
3 / 5 (2) Jan 30, 2012
run Forrest!
finitesolutions
Jan 30, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
jscroft
1.7 / 5 (15) Jan 30, 2012
>> A good american is a dead one.

Wow. There's something you rarely hear in person.

>> Sniper school will now focus on tracking and identification. No more precision shooting skills!

Not if the sniper is also the source of the laser illumination. Keeping the dot on target at a one-mile range requires EXACTLY the same skill set at putting a bullet there. What this device does is to reduce the impact of hitherto-uncontrollable factors, like variable windage.

ryggesogn2
1.6 / 5 (15) Jan 30, 2012
Anyone remember the movie "Runaway" with Tom Selleck?

The best gun control is to hit what you are aiming at.
Temple
4.7 / 5 (12) Jan 30, 2012
Keeping the dot on target at a one-mile range requires EXACTLY the same skill set at putting a bullet there. What this device does is to reduce the impact of hitherto-uncontrollable factors, like variable windage.


Not even close to true. Putting a dot on a target with a laser is trivial compared to putting a bullet on that same target.

When sighting with a laser, you can completely ignore range and wind as well as any need to 'lead' a moving target (assuming the target is moving non-relativistically).

Those three things make it exceedingly difficult to hit a target with a conventional round, whereas practically anybody can paint a target with a laser.
sigoldberg1
2.7 / 5 (6) Jan 30, 2012
What are the longer term implications? Think of inexpensive weapons with extreme accuracy. Today, as traditionally, US forces have much superior aiming and targeting skills to their asymmetric opponents. Suppose this technology is widespread in say 25 years, including automated laser spotting, possibly of multiple targets simultaneously. So computers make easier the downmarket transition of extreme accuracy skills in marksmanship. Likely worse for world leaders, national leaders, better for extortionists, madmen, likely worse for traditional well trained forces like US forces. Better than cluster bombs for civilians, but overall unpredictable, unstable consequences. Will be cheap so not so much chance of non proliferation. Consider treaty? On the other advanced economies could have the drone launched version.

Will this make the world more stable?
ryggesogn2
2 / 5 (14) Jan 30, 2012
Worse for world leaders, national leaders,

Worse for BAD leaders.
Better for those who have limited, decentralized power. Assassinating a legislator has little political impact compared to eliminating a dictator.
Deathclock
1.9 / 5 (9) Jan 30, 2012
Since you can no longer rely on a ballistic trajectory you'd better have a wide swath between you and your target or you may end up killing someone with the wrong skin color.
Xbw
2.2 / 5 (15) Jan 30, 2012
A good american is a dead one.
Check http://www.odmp.org daily for good americans.
Salutari.

Wow what delightfully intense hatred of an entire people. Well done. You score up there with Hitler as far as genocidal maniacs go.

Anyways, I hope Nerf catches on to this and invents a laser guided Nerf gun. I will be the king of all Nerf wielding combatants!!
Shootist
1.1 / 5 (10) Jan 30, 2012
Worse for world leaders, national leaders,

Worse for BAD leaders.
Better for those who have limited, decentralized power. Assassinating a legislator has little political impact compared to eliminating a dictator.


Some form of a democratic republic with subsidiarity in decision making and transparency in operation. Probably the best government that can be had.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (22) Jan 30, 2012
The gun on the M1 tank is a 120-mm M256 smoothbore cannon
I've seen one of these before on Merry Melodies . Their called sneaky bullets
Didnt duke nukem used to have these? Next up - obstacle avoidance, loitering, needleguns.

@finitesolutions
-I bet you wish muhammud had been a scientist. Too bad.
sniper school will now focus on tracking and identification . no more precision shooting skills!
Yeah a mile is too far to walk to pee on a corpse anyways.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.2 / 5 (19) Jan 30, 2012
Not even close to true. Putting a dot on a target with a laser is trivial compared to putting a bullet on that same target.
And I would think you could devise a target designation system which would keep the laser on target for you? If it doesnt already exist?
http://en.wikiped...n_System

-A miniature version of that?
ibuyufo
1 / 5 (1) Jan 30, 2012
Snipers can't brag about their skills now that we have guided bullets. Next up is me not having to feed myself.
NotAsleep
5 / 5 (2) Jan 30, 2012
Absolutely expect to see these on drones where the cost of collateral damage is disproportionately higher than a soldier's stray bullet.

These will also feature prominently on base perimeters to both kill insurgents and to neutralize mortars, rockets, etc. Right now, the only alternative is to fire hundreds or thousands of rounds of ammunition at mortars/rockets/etc. with the mere hope of stopping the round and the near certainty of collateral damage. In the end, we generally keep these systems off due to the high potential cost to surrounding populations
tardiz
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 30, 2012
Combine this with a Metal Storm gun.
Can just picture it on the back of a Big Dog drone, with a small laser designator in the head. Scary.
cmn
4.5 / 5 (4) Jan 30, 2012
If you use it to hunt game, where's the sport in that? I suppose it could prevent the accidental shooting of other hunters by idiots who shouldn't be hunting in the first place.


*quaff* Dick Cheney *quaff*
Deathclock
1.9 / 5 (9) Jan 30, 2012
Combine this with a Metal Storm gun.
Can just picture it on the back of a Big Dog drone, with a small laser designator in the head. Scary.


Reminds me of a scene from some dumb movie where there are many hostile targets around a single innocent victim and the system locks on to the head of each hostile guy and fires a barrage of bullets to simultaneously drop all of them while leaving the innocent guy untouched in the middle... soon to be a reality?
NotAsleep
4 / 5 (4) Jan 30, 2012
Combine this with a Metal Storm gun.
Can just picture it on the back of a Big Dog drone, with a small laser designator in the head. Scary.


Reminds me of a scene from some dumb movie where there are many hostile targets around a single innocent victim and the system locks on to the head of each hostile guy and fires a barrage of bullets to simultaneously drop all of them while leaving the innocent guy untouched in the middle... soon to be a reality?

Robocop!
JRi
not rated yet Jan 30, 2012
Now, if one just could figure out how to steer these thing behind a corner.
Doug_Huffman
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 30, 2012
Already done. See Objective Individual Combat Weapon (System) by Heckler and Koch and its XM-25 low velocity 25 mm smart airburst munition - Counter Defilade Target Engagement (CDTE) System. It doesn't go around a corner but times its fragmentation detonation for after it has enfiladed.
finitesolutions
3 / 5 (4) Jan 30, 2012
"Now, if one just could figure out how to steer these thing behind a corner."
Maybe in a full circle so it kills the one that fires it.
LVT
2 / 5 (4) Jan 30, 2012
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.5 / 5 (16) Jan 30, 2012
Too bad this guy didnt have a ZF-1 gun
http://www.youtub...Rr_EP8ns
ekim
5 / 5 (2) Jan 30, 2012
The size of gun needed to fire such a round could be greatly reduced. A hand gun could suffice.
BloodSpill
not rated yet Jan 30, 2012
Robocop!


More recently, Iron Man.
scidog
not rated yet Jan 31, 2012
and of course the tech for counter battery fire for such a weapon is just around the corner.the nanosecond a laser spot is found a shoulder fired rail gun,or whatever,blows the shooter and everything around him to bits.
Tausch
1 / 5 (6) Jan 31, 2012
Women will like this. Making sure men dual with this mutually - if they want a woman's hand in marriage.

The figurative 'stone' are the mutually fired shots, autonomous, self-seeking projectiles. The 'birds' of course, the men.

From a combat point of view, if friend and foe both have this, firing first is no advantage.

Yes, Sandia researchers, well thought out.

mosahlah
1 / 5 (4) Jan 31, 2012
"Now, if one just could figure out how to steer these thing behind a corner."
Maybe in a full circle so it kills the one that fires it.


Absolutely, in case the terrorists pick one up. I like the way you think. I'll nominate you for the "Military-Industrial Innovation Award". What's your full name so we can type it up properly?
Noumenon
1.6 / 5 (7) Jan 31, 2012
A good american is a dead one.


Looks like this post was removed. Could someone tell who posted this? (My guess is Vendicar_Decarian, who should be banned permanently)
alq131
not rated yet Jan 31, 2012
Clearly CSI:Miami stays on top of technology...just saw an episode where someone is killed with one of these "smart bullets"...
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.6 / 5 (16) Jan 31, 2012
and of course the tech for counter battery fire for such a weapon is just around the corner.the nanosecond a laser spot is found a shoulder fired rail gun,or whatever,blows the shooter and everything around him to bits.
By that time little bullets will have intelligent target recognition and tracking and will only need the shooter to identify the target initially. It will literally 'have your name on it'. You can run but not very far.

Wow I just had 10 religious posts deleted. Otto lives!
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.8 / 5 (17) Jan 31, 2012
A good american is a dead one.


Looks like this post was removed. Could someone tell who posted this? (My guess is Vendicar_Decarian, who should be banned permanently)
That was finitesolutions.
Jonathan_Strauss
2 / 5 (4) Jan 31, 2012
Great! Another toy for the warmongers on our fraudulent perpetual war on terror.

terrorism stay scared, stay separate, terror terror terror, terror is bad, you are bad, stay scared, go shopping!
Tony_R
1 / 5 (3) Feb 01, 2012
They could turn out to be "dumb dumbs", as in the animated feature film, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?". See YouTube video kbRZKrvAZ7U.
350
1 / 5 (2) Feb 04, 2012
Ridiculous for them to state that normal bullets at half a mile would have a 9 meter grouping. This seems fishy to me as I've killed hogs at nearly that distance before. Shooting in the 600 meter range is not as impossible as these scientists portray.
Sinister1811
1 / 5 (5) Feb 04, 2012
In a war, this could be considered cheating. lol

Seriously, they need guns that can shoot around corners and bullets that can penetrate brick balls. That would be insane.
Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (2) Feb 05, 2012
It will be good when anti-American snipers have such equipment.
Sean_W
1 / 5 (4) Feb 05, 2012
If you use it to hunt game, where's the sport in that? I suppose it could prevent the accidental shooting of other hunters by idiots who shouldn't be hunting in the first place.


I think it is meant to hunt people like the Taliban who beat their neighbors with whips for listening to music and throw acid on little girls for going to school. Such 'game' don't deserve a sporting chance. Just my impression.

And really, it wouldn't prevent many hunting accidents since the bullet goes where the shooter directs it and if someone shoots without properly identifying their target, the last thing they need is more accuracy.
DGBEACH
1 / 5 (3) Feb 05, 2012
"Now, if one just could figure out how to steer these thing behind a corner."
Maybe in a full circle so it kills the one that fires it.


Only Angelina Jolie can do that! :)
tadchem
1 / 5 (2) Feb 06, 2012
sigoldberg1: The 'downmarket' user will continue to use low-accuracy high ROF weapons such as the AK series because the training to fire with accuracy is expensive. In modern urban conflict the bulk of the footsoldiers will be simply trying to pour lead downrange as fast as possible. This ammunition will remain top-drawer price for may years to come. The urban guerillas will just as soon buy a box or two of 5.56 or 7.62 NATO as a single round of this, which will require a large capital investment up front in a trained sniper team of two and top tier equipment.
jscroft
1 / 5 (3) Feb 10, 2012
Keeping the dot on target at a one-mile range requires EXACTLY the same skill set at putting a bullet there. What this device does is to reduce the impact of hitherto-uncontrollable factors, like variable windage.


Not even close to true. Putting a dot on a target with a laser is trivial compared to putting a bullet on that same target.

When sighting with a laser, you can completely ignore range and wind as well as any need to 'lead' a moving target (assuming the target is moving non-relativistically).

Those three things make it exceedingly difficult to hit a target with a conventional round, whereas practically anybody can paint a target with a laser.


True... but you're arguing against an assertion I didn't make. Anybody can PUT a dot on target. What's difficult--and I chose my words carefully here--is KEEPING the dot on target for any length of time.

Um. Seriously, Temple, have you ever actually DONE any of this? I'm speaking from first-hand experience.