Photo: Sandia Labs Press Release
Guided missiles aren’t new, but they’ve never looked like this before. Sandia National Laboratories has developed a laser-guided bullet that can correct its own course after being fired.
How is that possible? Well, there are a number of crucial design elements that the Sandia team, led by researchers Red Jones and Brian Kast, changed about the tradition bullet and gun.
The insides of conventional rifles contain grooves (called “rifling”) along the barrel that make a bullet roll and spin throughout its flight. This dramatically improves accuracy.
But the rifle and bullet cooked up at Sandia Labs don’t have that rifling. The bullet instead has steerable fins that actually make the bullet capable of changing directions, just like the rudder can steer a plane during flight.
The lynchpin of this design is an actuator—the device that makes the fins move—that is actually inside the bullet. This chip steers the bullet along, making up to 30 course corrections per second.
The changes in direction come from an optical sensor that seeks a laser point on a target. The optical sensor at the nose of the bullet identifies the target, the actuator directs the changes, and the fins make the course correction.
The payload? A dense chunk of metal.
Basically, this isn’t so much a laser-guided bullet as it is a particularly small guided missile with a kinetic payload. Either way you look at it, the tech is making a splash in trials.
When fired from a range of a half of a mile, the conventional bullet misses a target on average by nine meters. With the laser-guided bullet, that average goes down to 20 centimeters. One of the most important hurdles they’ve overcome is ensuring that the actuator chip can survive being shot out of a rifle.
What’s the next step? If this tech lives up to its reputation, even a Stormtrooper could be a sharpshooter.
For hunters — if the bullet makes it to market — this could be a great way to handicap the sport.
For the military, it will cut back on training costs, and make each soldier a more efficient and effective weapon.
Each soldier using the bullet would become just that much more accurate. The amount of ammunition expended could decrease in general, saving the Pentagon — and taxpayers — more money.
Furthermore, since these bullets need space to self-correct, shooting from longer distances actually makes them even more accurate. This could help neutralize enemy forces and save lives.
The ability to out-shoot the enemy has always been highly prized by military forces, and understandably. This self-correcting bullet can give U.S. forces an even larger edge.
Here’s a look at how the bullet is fired from the gun, from Sandia:
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