2:09pm

Wed May 15, 2013
All Tech Considered

A New 'Smart Rifle' Decides When To Shoot And Rarely Misses

Originally published on Thu May 16, 2013 8:14 am

A new rifle goes on sale on Wednesday, and it's not like any other. It uses lasers and computers to make shooters very accurate. A startup gun company in Texas developed the rifle, which is so effective that some in the shooting community say it should not be sold to the public.

It's called the TrackingPoint rifle. On a firing range just outside Austin in the city of Liberty Hill, a novice shooter holds one and takes aim at a target 500 yards away. Normally it takes years of practice to hit something at that distance. But this shooter nails it on the first try.

The rifle's scope features a sophisticated color graphics display. The shooter locks a laser on the target by pushing a small button by the trigger. It's like a video game. But here's where it's different: You pull the trigger but the gun decides when to shoot. It fires only when the weapon has been pointed in exactly the right place, taking into account dozens of variables, including wind, shake and distance to the target.

The rifle has a built-in laser range finder, a ballistics computer and a Wi-Fi transmitter to stream live video and audio to a nearby iPad. Every shot is recorded so it can be replayed, or posted to YouTube or Facebook.

"Think of it like a smart rifle. You have a smart car; you got a smartphone; well, now we have a smart rifle," says company President Jason Schauble. He says the TrackingPoint system was built for hunters and target shooters, especially a younger generation that embraces social media.

"They like to post videos; they like to be in constant communication with groups or networks," Schauble says. "This kind of technology, in addition to making shooting more fun for them, also allows shooting to be something that they can share with others."

A team of 70 people spent three years creating the technology. Schauble says there's nothing else like it, even in the military. For civilians, TrackingPoint sells its high-end, long-range guns directly. With price tags of up to $22,000, they're not cheap.

One hunter who doesn't want one is Chris Wilbratte. He says the TrackingPoint system undermines what he calls hunting's "fair chase."

"It's the traditional shooting fish in a barrel or the sitting duck. I mean, there's no skill in it, right? It's just you point, you let the weapon system do its thing and you pull the trigger and now you've killed a deer. There's no skill," Wilbratte says.

This new rifle is being released as the gun control debate continues to simmer in Washington.

Chris Frandsen, a West Point graduate who fought in Vietnam, doesn't believe the TrackingPoint technology should be allowed in the civilian world. The gun makes it too easy for a criminal or a terrorist to shoot people from a distance without being detected, he says.

"Where we have mental health issues, where we have children that are disassociated from society early on, when we have terrorists who have political cards to play, we have to restrict weapons that make them more efficient in terrorizing the population," Frandsen says.

Schauble says because the company sells directly — instead of going through gun dealers — it knows who its customers are and will vet them. And he says there's a key feature that prevents anyone other than the registered owner from utilizing the gun's capabilities.

"It has a password protection on the scope. When a user stores it, he can password protect the scope that takes the advanced functionality out. So the gun will still operate as a firearm itself, but you cannot do the tag/track/exact, the long range, the technology-driven precision-guided firearm piece without entering that pass code," he says.

Schauble says demand has been "overwhelming." TrackingPoint now has a waiting list. Others are interested, too: Rifle maker Remington Arms wants to use the technology in rifles it wants to sell for around $5,000.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A new rifle went on sale today, and it's unlike any other. The gun uses lasers and powerful computers to make shooters much more accurate. A startup company in Texas developed the rifle, but it's so effective some in the industry say it should not be sold to the public. Mark Dewey reports.

MARK DEWEY, BYLINE: On a firing range just outside Austin in the city of Liberty Hill, a novice shooter holds the TrackingPoint rifle and takes aim at a target 500 yards away.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUN COCKING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You've got a live gun.

DEWEY: Normally, it takes years of practice to hit something at that distance. But this shooter nails it on the first try.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hit.

DEWEY: The shooter is looking at a sophisticated color graphics display inside the rifle's scope. He locks a laser on the target by pushing a small button by the trigger. It's like a video game. But here's where it's different. You pull the trigger, but the gun decides when to shoot. It only fires when the weapon's been pointed in exactly the right place, taking into account dozens of variables.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hit.

DEWEY: The rifle has a built-in laser rangefinder, a ballistics computer and a Wi-Fi transmitter to stream live video and audio to a nearby iPad. Every shot is recorded so it can be replayed or posted to YouTube or Facebook.

JASON SCHAUBLE: Think of it like a smart rifle. You have a smart car, you got a smartphone, well now, we have smart rifle.

DEWEY: That's company president Jason Schauble. He says the TrackingPoint system was built for hunters and target shooters, especially a younger generation that embraces social media.

SCHAUBLE: They like to post videos, they like to be in constant communication with groups or networks. This kind of technology, in addition to making shooting more fun for them, also allows shooting to be something that they can share with others.

DEWEY: A team of 70 people spent three years creating the technology. Schauble says there's nothing else like it, even in the military. For civilians, TrackingPoint sells its high-end, long-range guns directly. They're not cheap - up to $22,000 each. One hunter who doesn't want one is Chris Wilbratte. He says the TrackingPoint system undermines what he calls hunting's fair chase.

CHRIS WILBRATTE: It's the traditional, like, shooting fish in a barrel or the sitting duck. I mean, there's no skill in it, right? It's just you point, you let the weapons system do its thing, and you pull the trigger, and you - now you've killed a deer. You know, there's no skill.

DEWEY: This new rifle is released as the gun control debate continues to simmer in Washington. One person who worries about this new gun is Chris Frandsen, a West Point graduate who fought in Vietnam. Frandsen doesn't believe the TrackingPoint technology should be allowed in the civilian world because the gun makes it too easy for a criminal or a terrorist to shoot people from a distance without being detected.

CHRIS FRANDSEN: Where we have mental health issues, where we have children that are disassociated from society early on, when we have terrorists who have political cards to play, we have to restrict weapons that make them more efficient in terrorizing the population.

DEWEY: TrackingPoint's Schauble says because the company sells directly - instead of going through gun dealers - it knows who its customers are and will vet them. And he says there's a key feature that prevents anyone other than the registered owner from utilizing the gun's capabilities.

SCHAUBLE: It has a password protection on the scope. So the gun will still operate as a firearm itself, but you cannot do the tag, track, exact, the long range, the technology-driven, precision-guided firearm piece without entering that pass code.

DEWEY: Schauble says demand has been overwhelming. TrackingPoint now has a waiting list. Others are interested too. The rifle maker Remington Arms wants to use the technology for rifles it wants to sell for around $5,000. For NPR News, I'm Mark Dewey in Austin, Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: ALL THINGS CONSIDERED continues right after this. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.