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Fiber-optic laser-based system brings rifle sights into the 21st century


April 20, 2011

A lab prototype of ORNL's Reticle Compensating Rifle Barrel Reference Sensor (Image: ORNL/Ron Walli)

A lab prototype of ORNL's Reticle Compensating Rifle Barrel Reference Sensor (Image: ORNL/Ron Walli)

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At long ranges, snipers must compensate not only for crosswinds and the fact that bullets travel in a curved trajectory, but also allow for even very small barrel disruptions that can cause a shooter to miss their intended target by a wide margin. Contending with such difficulties makes feats such as the 1.53 mile (2.47 km) sniper kills by British Corporal Craig Harrison even more impressive, but a new type of rifle sighting system developed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) could take one of these variables out of the equation. The fiber-optic laser-based sensor system precisely measures the deflection of the barrel relative to the sight and automatically adjusts the crosshairs to match the true position of the barrel.

The ORNL technology places glass optical fibers into the exterior grooves, known as flutes, found on the barrels of modern high-powered rifles. These reduce weight and create added surface area to enable the barrel to cool faster. Such flutes are either produced by the manufacturer or can be retrofit to existing barrels. A laser diode sends a signal beam into the optical fibers which split the beam twice, sending one light beam along the top of the rifle barrel and another along the side. This allows the system to measure both the vertical and horizontal barrel deflection.

Traditional reticles are normally manually adjusted by one-fourth minutes of angle, but through the use of a combination of algorithms, optics and additional sensor inputs, the ORNL's Reticle Compensating Rifle Barrel Reference Sensor can also take into account distance and other factors affecting bullet trajectory to automatically adjust the crosshairs by 1/1,000th of a minute in real time. According to the leader of the development team, Slobodan Rajic, this makes the ONRL system 250 times better than traditional reticles.

But the ONRL team isn't done yet. Rajic and his colleagues are also working on a laser-based bullet tracking system that will provide specific information about the bullet flight path to give shooters even better odds of hitting their target.

Source: ORNL

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Unfortunately, I have the distinct feeling that this tech will be deployable about as quickly as the XM25, which is still not ready despite numerous paintjobs. The only folks using this system will be Section 9 of Public Security.


One problem I see with this is heat from the barrel affecting the fibers and giving a bad reading. Another MAJOR problem is, I assume this will use IR laser diodes for the barrel deflection and the bullet tracking... you can see the lasers with night vision. Same goes for the laser ranger finders. They strobe a IR beam that says LOOK AT ME I\'M LASING YOU! SHOOT HERE!. Almost as bad as a sniper using tracer ammo.

Philip Van de Walker

Ah, another way to kill our fellow humans more effectively. Don'tcha just love modern technology?

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