At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in January, Linux showed up in one especially unlikely place: a rifle. Specifically, in a rifle scope created by an Austin, Texas startup named Tracking Point. Tracking Point is developing precision guided firearms, customized rifles that perform most of the necessary calculations involved in accurate long-range shooting.
As Vice writes in a recent profile of Tracking Point, "The PGF's closed-loop system comprises not just the gun itself, a custom Surgeon rifle, but also custom ammunition and, notably, a proprietary (and WiFi-enabled) scope. The technology packed into TrackingPoint's initial PGF package is so advanced that we'd heard it could have an inexperienced shooter, maybe even someone who hasn't ever fired a gun, putting lead on targets at over 1,000 away in mere minutes. Not lifetimes. Not years. Minutes."
Given the string of highly publicized shootings in the United States over the past year, Tracking Point's rifle is unsettling. The obvious question is: If it takes no skill to use this weapon, if an inexperienced shooter can hit a target from half a mile away with no training, how long until the next sniper spree? For about $17,000, almost anyone who can buy a gun can buy a smart rifle.
"We're not trying to put out a product that enables skill-free killing," says CEO Jason Schauble, a former marine. And there are arguments in favor of the weapon; Schauble and others reason that the people who commit horrible acts will always do so, and PGFs could help keep police ahead of the game. The deadly accuracy of precision guided firearms could even discourage warfare. Maybe. It's a nice idea, anyway.
Despite Schauble's claim, Vice's profile makes a strong case for an inexperienced--and unskilled--shooter being able to kill with a PGF. First, Vice explains how the scope's calculations work: "The art of sniping has traditionally been one of complex ballistics. A long-distance shot must be aimed above a target due to the bullet's drop (gravity) and a slew of other ambient factors that play with projectiles—wind, incline, cant, humidity, temperature, the coriolis effect. TrackingPoint's system does the exact same real-time ballistics calculation, only it does it for you...
"They call it TTX, short for Tag, Track, Xact. Put very simply, when you tag a target down range the PGFs laser-range finder beams there and back 54 times per second, illuminating the target and measuring the time delay "reflected by the target, providing range measurement accuracy within one meter," according to the PGF white paper. From here, the system's on-board ballistic computer realigns your reticle, seen through the PGF's unique heads-up display, to account for said ambient factors. Squeeze and hold the trigger, and only when your pip perfectly aligns with the reticle will the system's electronic trigger reset, firing the gun."
Then comes the testing, and without having ever fired a gun, Vice's writer scored a 200 yard kill with a single shot. If not skill-free killing, that's at least low-skill killing. Tracking Point is currently catering to hunters, and argues its PGFs will help people do what they're already doing--and just do it better. Unfortunately, the more optimistic uses for Tracking Point's weapons, aiding police and the military, could take years to come about due to government procurement processes.
Check out Vice's 20 minute documentary on Tracking Point below for more; it shows the smart scope in action, talks about the apps and games Tracking Point is building around its software, and touches on the political concerns of how PGFs may be used in the future.