Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Flash, Bang, Ow! Less-Lethal Bullet ‘Attacks Three Senses’

Flash, Bang, Ow! Less-Lethal Bullet ‘Attacks Three Senses’:

Photo: U.S. Army; SmartRounds LLC

While the military’s test-firing its smartest munition yet, less-lethal weapons-makers are busy coming up with their own brainy bullets. Like one that senses when it strikes flesh, then deploys a devastating payload “to attack three of the five human senses.”

That’s the delightful idea behind ShockRounds, a new, less lethal munition developed by Smartrounds LLC. The company’s president, Nick Verini, tells Danger Room that the munitions, which boast a 300-foot range, are meant to replace other less-lethal options, like bean bags and rubber bullets, “which are really quite inadequate.”

“Munitions already out there depend on kinetic energy. They’re deployed, they hit, they hurt …[and] they can do too much harm,” he says. “We wanted to come up with a smarter way to pack a punch.”

Indeed, existing less-lethal munitions that rely on kinetic energy can be deadly, particularly if fired at close range. Gruesome stories of penetrative injuries, some resulting in death, abound. But from farther than 200 feet, the projectiles are basically useless. ShockRounds are designed to solve both problems.

All while delivering a triple punch of pain and misery. Each 18-mm projectile contains a micro-sensor, able to detect acceleration and deceleration. When the munition is fired off, the sensor detects that increase in speed. And when the projectile slows down? Ah. Must be time to detonate.

Nearly instantly, the munition deploys its payload: a liquified, compressed gas that delivers, in Verini’s words, “a shockwave to the system.” For one thing, the compressed gas makes a jarring noise as it exits the bullet. Plus, it’s been formulated to flash brightly and obscure a target’s vision. And, of course, the bullet itself is designed to hurt.

Ouch, yes. But there is some good news for potential targets of the ShockRound’s scourge. Because the munitions can detect when they reach their target, and then shift gears to quickly deploy their payload, there’s significantly less risk of skin penetration — no matter the range. So if the tech works, it’d be a major step toward turning less-lethal weapons into legitimately non-lethal ones.

Now that the Verini’s company has debuted ShockRounds, it’s planning to develop several more munitions with different kinds of debilitating payload combinations. Ideas, of which they’ve already got “around 10,” include combos of chemical irritants, expanding foam, gel and even explosives.

Not surprisingly, law enforcement agencies are already taking an interest in the ShockRound, but Verini’s yet to have much contact with military officials. Based on some of the droll, deranged or downright disturbing less-lethal weaponry that top brass have already toyed with (pain rays, anyone?), we have a feeling they’ll be open to talking.

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