01 February 2012

FWS News Feed: Self-Guided Bullets

It seems that Dr. Freeman has been working overtime at the Sandia Labs in New Mexico, because today, we learned that there is a working prototype of a self-guided bullet. Two scientists (and hunters), Red Jones and Brian Kast have developed a 12.7mm equipped with small depolyable fins, and uses a laser attached to the rifle to guide the bullet to the its fleshy target. All of this is similar in theory to the SOFLAM and smart missiles, and this new smart bullet can course-correct 30 times a second! When will the US soldier be expected to be loading "smart bullets" into their carbines? Sandia Labs is looking for a production partner to bring from the lab into the real world.
This reminds me of the smart micro-missiles in the 1984 Tom Selleck film Runaway (above imagine) or even the Fifth Elements' Zorg ZR-1 "recall function".


  1. I always liked the Zorg ZF-1- I tried to figure out how the bullets turned when I first watched "The Fifth Element". What I'm wondering now is how much a single smart bullet costs!!

    I'm considering writing an essay on the physics of phasers and ray-guns and whether or not we'll ever wield such weapons. I'm still brainstorming my idea, but I think I'll explore all the different settings of the phaser- like stunning, killing, heating, vaporizing, etc.- from a scientific perspective. Phasers provide a unique opportunity to analyze stun weapons, death rays, and blasters that utterly atomize their targets with a pop culture reference that everyone knows. Don't hold your breath- this project could be in the developmental stage for a long time.

    I've been annoyed by poor and often inaccurate analyses of the science of phasers for a long time. I keep seeing physicists come out and say things like, "I don't see how we could create a stun beam," when there is plenty of literature on such concepts nowadays. I know the issues of laser guns in a general kind of way- like the power pack issue and the bulk of today's lasers- but many questions remain unanswered.

    Atomic Rockets did mention that we could stun with a laser in PEP mode, kill with it in PIKL mode, heat rocks with a low power CW laser, and disrupt/disintegrate with high-power CW lasers or pulse lasers. Dematerialize is the only setting that isn't possible, but it is rather silly in the first place.

    I hope to answer as of yet unanswered questions such as, "How might phasers kill?", or "How much energy does a beam need to blast through rock walls or metal doors?". I found a paper on hard.sf.org that explores the propulsion systems of the Jupiter 2 from Lost in Space and Air Force One from Planet of the Apes with hard science, and I hope to do the same for the humble phaser. At the very least, it is a good writing project. : ) After all, space explorers need their guns!!

    Christopher Phoenix

  2. I would love to read that paper! I would wrote a fake history of the Starfleet plasma pistol, the EM-33, used in the Enterprise series. I think it is interesting how Gene didn't even want a "raygun" in his series, but the Phaser is one of the iconic pieces of tech from ST.

  3. Is it really true that Gene didn't want weapons in his series? I've seen quotes of his notes on sites like "Atomic Rockets" that discuss his ideas for the "laser guns", including reflex sights, tethered power packs, and so on. I thought he had a clear idea what his guns would do, and that he mainly thought of them as tools that could be used as weapons when the situation demanded it.

    I'm planning on discussing energy sidearms in a more general manner, so the phaser will appear mainly as a cultural reference. The fact is, I like phasers better than most other visual SF ray-gun- the continuous beams appear far more realistic than the "bolts" from other shows. Not only that, but the phaser has far more power than modern handguns. The beams can blast through brick, stone, and metal at high settings, and let's not forget the "vaporize" setting!! The phaser is quite similar to the manner of weapon I would want to carry as a space explorer or a member of the Earth Militia.

    I was disappointed Dr. John Schilling's laser pistol- it doesn't pack a lot of punch. The theory of using repeated steam explosions to tear flesh is interesting, but it is also very speculative. Flesh is rather in inhomogeneous, so the "repeated pulse" idea might not work. Real military lasers cause damage by burning and blasting holes in their targets. Wounds caused by lasers are rather different from wounds caused by bullets. Perhaps the steam explosion idea is the best, but couldn't this laser have had more power?

    The EM-33 was a neat little weapon. If you're feeling creative, just write the history of the EM-33!! I thought that laser weapons were used on Earth prior to phaser technology, personally. I guess that the writers of the show are just doing their gosh-darndest to keep away from lasers. Once I write my phaser paper, and it could be a while from now, I will be sure to give you a link to wherever I put this on the internet.

    BTW, have you ever read Robert Heinlein's "The Puppet Masters"? I hear that there are jet cars, ray guns, and alien slugs that take over the mind of their victims. That theme has been used many times in SF, such as in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and the Star Trek TNG episode "Conspiracy". It is interesting how there are two major themes in "alien invasion" literature. Either the humans are helpless and can't fight back, or the human characters fight back with ingenuity and occasionally some serious firepower.

    Christopher Phoenix

  4. One of my favorite episodes of ST:TNG was Conspiracy, and I wished the concept had been expanded, and it oddly violent and creepy. 'We seek peacefully co-existance!" Then BANG! clayheads explode!
    I had remember an interview with GR during the first and second seasons of ST:TNG, and he talked about how studio pushheads wanted more action, and remeber he also wanted the OT to more about exploration than fistfights. He won that battle with ST:TNG, especially if you look at the cricket phaser. There was a phaser, but it was hidden.
    While researching the Assault Rifle blogpost, I read on the Memory Alpha site about how GR felt about the Phaser Rifle from "Where No Man has Go Before." In fact, a Phaser Rifle wasn't seen in ST:TNG until his death. The design for the original phaser and the one from ST:III were amazing, and I think it setup the movement from rayguns to blasters.
    Yeah, I'll have to reread my mock history of the EM-33...left cheated when Enterprise replaced with the phase pistol.

  5. Yeah- the whole "alien parasite" theme is rather creepy. Somewhat fleshy and disgusting as well, with strong themes of body horror. One thing I'm left wondering is how the alien parasites manage to act relatively normal in human society. Can they access the host's memories, and if so, how?

    Of course, the invasion is often first detected by the characters in these stories when their family and friends begin behaving in abnormal ways. The hosts often cease showing emotional connection to family and friends, no longer have any sex drive (a dead giveaway!!), and behave in an cold, logical manner totally inconsistent with their original personality. It might be fairly hard for the parasites conceal such an invasion without totally infesting the community and government. Humans are fairly social creatures and will quickly notice when a mind-controlling parasite has infested someone they know and love. The scary aspect is that by the time you notice something is wrong, the aliens may have already taken over the community, and are coming for you. I'm still waiting for the library to send "The Puppet Masters" to the local library for pickup...

    I always thought the phasers had more of the "ray-gun" look. The term blaster was an early term for a deadly energy weapon, so it is probably interchangeable with "ray-gun" in some instances. Ray-guns, however, seen to cause damage by the emission of deadly rays while blasters have more of an explosive blast effect.

    On my quest for yet more information on lasers, I visited Sam's Laser FAQ- a resource for laser hobbyists, i.e. nerds who build their own lasers, i.e. nerds who have more disposable income and time than I do. There, I took a dose of cold, hard reality- or should I say blindingly bright reality? When you read and watch too much SF, even hard SF, you get conditioned to its idiosyncrasies- one of which is that ultra-high power lasers or laser like devices are commonly available and used with little fear of being blinded by stray beam reflections.

    The reality is that lasers with their power output measured in watts are fairly big, inefficient, and dangerous toys that some very careful hobbyists use. Any laser with an output measured in kilowatts is probably Air Force property and fills a room. Stay beam reflections are a serious danger, and it is possible to be blinded in an instant by a stray laser beam- or to accumulate various laser-burnt blind spots until your retina resembles a shotgun-blasted target. If portable high-power laser weapons are used in the future, how will we avoid blinding ourselves or innocent bystanders? Closer in the future, how will soldiers avoid being blinded by enemy laser blinders? Even so-called "eye safe" wavelengths are what cause "arc eye" in welders. Modern laser goggles only keep out one wavelength of light, so they are useless against all other lasers with a different color. Some lasers can change wavelength with the twist of a dial. Its no wonder that near-future applications of laser focus on dazzling and blinding enemy sensors...

    Yeah- it is too bad that the Enterprise writers wrote in so many elements from later Trek. I wonder if the studio was pushing for familiar phaser-like elements in Star Trek Enterprise? Phasers were explained to be some kind of advanced beam weapon that combines a laser and a particle beam that has disruptive properties. I would expect the crew of Enterprise to use laser weapons and particle beam weapons, since this development hadn't occurred yet. Of course, tying a Trek weapon to a real life concept would beg the question, "Why are the laser beams visible in the vacuum of space?".

    Christopher Phoenix