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Tracking Point Precision Guided Firearm Review

by Eric R. Poole   |  February 13th, 2014   |   11

This smart rifle doesn’t shoot itself. Rather, it still requires users to locate the target, input windage, place the rifle off Safe, make a good tag and pull the trigger. TrackingPoint is a system, one designed to make first-round hits more probable at any distance.

The bolt-action rifle, telescopic riflescope and machined cartridge ammunition are innovations of the 19th century. Small arms have remained isolated from the microelectronics and computing revolution until the development of the Precision Guided Firearm (PGF) by TrackingPoint started in 2011.

The TrackingPoint PGF integrates microelectronics, microprocessors and wireless communication technology for the purpose of designating a target, tracking, networking and fire control. The result is a system that quickly enables a shooter to effect multiple shots with precision at multiple unknown distances. It went from concept to prototype to maturity in just two years.

The sniping adage “One Shot, One Kill” is mathematically inaccurate. Based on information gathered by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, the probability of hit data illustrates that even a formally trained sniper has difficulty in making first-round hits at long range. In fact, existing military sniper systems offer less than a 5 percent chance of striking a target with the first round at 1,000 yards. At 500 yards, rifles chambered in 7.62 NATO only scored subsequent hits 50 percent of the time, while .300 Win. Mag. and .50-caliber rifle systems slightly improved that percentage to nearly 60.

The point is that long-range shooting isn’t easy, and hits are not even a guaranteed result for trained snipers using some of the best sniper rifles. There are three primary reasons for a miss: improper assessment of the environment, improper assessment of range and errors associated with human input. TrackingPoint improves success with a closed-loop system consisting of a custom-built rifle, advanced optic technology and specially toleranced conventional ammunition. The result is a platform that has proven to deliver a greater than 50 percent chance of first-round-hit success at 1,000 yards to an untrained novice. Skilled shooters should expect even better results.

The networked tracking scope utilizes four major processors and three minor processors. They include the Predictive Image Processing Pipeline (PIPE) processors, the Tracking Digital Signal Processor (DSP) for foreground target tracking and ballistics computation, an imaging processor for active imaging control, and the user interface processor that runs the heads-up display graphics, Wi-Fi and off-scope video processing. The PIPE integrates the image-based target tracking algorithms with the heads-up display format to present the information to the shooter. The three minor processors are less interesting — power management and image compression.

The fire-control technology focuses on the guided trigger, which eliminates the primary sources for missed shots: trigger manipulation, breath control and shot timing. The instant the shooter draws the trigger, the round will only fire at the precise moment necessary to hit the target because the trigger is hard wired into the networked tracking scope’s automatic ballistic calculator.

Onboard Wi-Fi allows for any iOS or Android smartphone or tablet to stream live. Once the red tag button is pressed and activated to tag a target, the system begins recording and continues to record until a user-selected time has elapsed after the shot.

The TrackingPoint system includes front and rear optical assemblies and a laser rangefinder. Each works in conjunction with image processing software to produce a clear view of the targets at distance. This may sound backward, but the lenses are fixed at a maximum magnification. The digital zoom is used to reduce magnification, rather than increase it, which allows the system to maintain image quality at long range without becoming distorted and pixelated. The rear ocular lens expands the displayed image to a viewable size with a forgiving eye relief of 3¾ inches and a larger-than-normal eye box without any parallax.

The eye-safe laser rangefinder lights up the target with short bursts and measures the elapsed time light is reflected. The rangefinder utilizes two apertures adjacent to the center-imaging lens. One transmits, the other receives. One thousand pulses are fired in one-tenth of a second.

TrackingPoint users don’t look through the scope like with a conventional optic. Instead, they see a computer-rendered image and overlay of relevant targeting data on the Heads-Up Display (HUD) in real time. The 110mm telephoto lens resolves the viewing area on a 14.6-megapixel image sensor streaming at 54 frames per second. The PIPE decodes each frame into an RGB frame for display and a black-and-white frame for the target tracking system. The display presents a variety of information and can be customized to fit a customer’s request.

The user interface is intuitive and simple to learn. It takes less than five minutes for the user to master the system depending on the shooter’s experience.

A host of sensors and gyroscopes inside the TrackingPoint measure environmental and positional factors relevant to long-range shooting. These include temperature, barometric pressure and relative humidity. The Internal Measurement Unit (IMU) determines cant (or roll), inclination (or pitch) and yaw (or shot direction). Four microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) with three-axis gyroscopes, a single three-axis accelerometer and a single three-axis magnetometer make up this complex unit. The IMU updates 54 times per second and continuously updates the viewer’s HUD.

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