|Tracking Point Precision Guided Firearms bolt action rifle in 7.62х51 (.308)|
Tracking Point Precision Guided Firearms semi-auto rifle in 7.62х51 (.308)
Tracking Point Precision Guided Firearms bolt action rifle in .338 Lapua Magnum
Tracking Point Precision Guided Firearms semi-auto rifle in .300 Winchetser Magnum
Display view of the Tracking Point system a moment before "guided" shot is taken at the game
A line of hunting and sniper rifles, designed and sold by American company Tracking Point Inc under the brand “Precision Guided Firearms” is one of most innovative approaches in blending well-matured small arms technologies with rapidly evolving state-of-the-art computer applications such as image processing and recognition, ballistic calculations, visual data recording and transmission etc. Unlike previous computerized sighting systems for small arms, Tracking Point has integrated computer into the most important part of the shooting process – making the shoot exactly when the rifle is positioned as it should be to hit its intended target. Many previous systems allow automatic calculation of point of aim depending on actual distance to the target (measured by a laser rangefinder), atmospheric conditions and ballistic properties of the specific cartridge and rifle combination, preset by user. However, it is still up to the shooter to properly align the calculated point of impact with his desired point of aim, and pull the trigger at this specific moment. To solve the problem of the inherent instability of the human hands that hold the rifle, especially when shooting from unsupported position or under stress, Tracking Point used several technologies previously used in combat aircrafts. Some of these key technologies are image recognition and automated target tracking, plus use of a human operator input only as a general permission to release ordnance (or fire a shot, in this case), with actual moment of release or shot being calculated by a computer, based on a real-time ballistic solution against an automatically tracked target.
In general, shooting of any rifle (Precision Guided Firearm) by Tracking Point in its most automatic mode involves following steps:
- Acquire intended target on the display of the digital optical sight, using variable zoom options if required.
- Place the tag marker (dot shown on the display) over the desired point of impact on the target, and press the “tag” button at the front of the trigger guard. This forces built-in computer to do several steps, including: measure actual distance to the target, calculate ballistic solution based on the pre-programmed rifle and ammunition data, and to start automatically tracking the target within the field of view of the sight. This automatic tracking aligns visual tag mark on the screen with same spot of the tracked target, regardless of minute movements of the rifle as well as target’s own movements
- Align the aiming reticle (which designates calculated point of impact) with the visually tagged spot of the target. Once the aiming reticle is properly aligned with the tagged target, reticle color is changed, indicating that the rifle is actually “on target” and can be fired with high chances to hit intended spot.
- Pull and hold the “guided trigger”. This final user input actually serves as “permission to engage” for the system. As long as the trigger is pulled, computer dynamically and in real-time calculates relative positions of the tagged spot of the target with predicted point of impact, and automatically fires the gun as soon as these two calculated spots are converged.
Use of the integrated computer allows for dynamic tracking of moving targets, with real-time adjustments of the tag and calculated point of impact, which greatly simplifies shooting at real-life targets such as hinting game or enemy personnel, which rarely remains static for any noticeable amount of time. Other variables automatically taken into account by computer are external temperature, air pressure, ballistic properties of the ammunition and rifle, horizontal angle of rifle and its cant. Also, built-in laser barrel reference system ensures that sight would hold its factory-set “zero” regardless of how often sight was taken off and re-installed on the same rifle, and despite minor changes in the barrel due to temperature changes.
And as if it’s not enough for successful precision shooting, this highly integrated system offers much more. Thanks to Wi-Fi interface, built into its core computer, any Precision Guided Firearm can stream real-time sight picture (with all relevant computed information) to an external device, such as smartphone, handheld computer or digital glasses. This streamed video information can be viewed by others (i.e. instructor or spotter), stored for later review, or used for remote (over-the-corner) aiming and shooting of the gun. Also, at least in theory, and provided sufficient computing power and software upgrades, same system could be used to for multi-target “tag-tag shoot-shoot” scenarios, where operator can tag several targets within his point of view (i.e. small group of terrorists clustering together) and then proceed to move through tagged targets while pressing and holding the trigger, with rifle automatically shooting at each selected target as soon as the aim is true. Alternatively, if single target requires several hits, system can automatically restore tag to the same location over the target after each shot.
All in all, this integrated system allows for quantum leap in real-life shooting performance, especially at medium and long distances and against moving targets. It also allows for simpler engagement modes, where electronic sight is used to calculate ballistic solution to selected target but target “tagging” and “guided” trigger are not used.
The Tracking Point claims that its 5.56mm semi-auto rifle can effectively engage moving targets at ranges of up to 500 meters with target moving as fast as 16 km/h (10 mph). Semi-automatic Precision Guided Firearm in .308 Win / 7.62 NATO can be used to effectively engage targets as far as 800 meters (0.5 mile) with target speed of up to 24 km/h (15 mph), and bolt action Precision Guided Firearm in .338 Lapua is claimed to do the job on ranges up to 1200 meters (0.75 mile) and with target moving as fast as 40 km/h (25 mph). Judging from available limited end user reports, Tracking Point rifles live up to their initial promises, allowing even relatively inexperienced shooters to achieve reliable hits with .308 Win Tracking Point rifle at ranges of up to 800 meters.
Precision Guided Firearm by Tracking Point is an integrated system, which, in minimal configuration, consists of a custom-built rifle with electronically controlled “guided” trigger and battery power pack integrated into the shoulder stock of semi-automatic rifle or into the sight itself for bolt action rifles. The core of the system is an electronic sight, which is mechanically attached to the top accessory rail of the rifle, and connected via the wiring to the trigger unit and battery pack. A the present time, Tracking Point rifles are pre-programmed for just a few factory-selected types of (match grade) ammunition, but this may change in future.
Host rifle can be semi-automatic or bolt action; current Tracking Point models are built on AR-10 / AR-15 style semi-automatic platforms in .223 Rem, .308 Win and .300 Win Mag calibers, as well as on manually operated, rotary bolt action rifles with detachable box magazines in .308 Win, .300 Win Mag and .338 Lapua Mag. These rifles represent more or less traditional high end designs modified with guided triggers and battery packs, as described above.
The sight unit is a proprietary system, which consists of reprogrammable microcomputer, input video camera (image sensor) with objective lenses, built-in color display and an array of sensors that measure environmental conditions (temperature and pressure), position and movement of the rifle (compass, angle and cant sensors, accelerometers), range to the target (laser range finder), and relative alignment of the sight and barrel (laser). Additional modules include external interfaces (wired and wireless) used to upload new software and data to the sight and to transmit visual data to external devices such as virtual glasses, smartphone or iPad.
Computer performs all the calculations necessary to recognize and track the tagged target, calculate ballistic solution in real time, display all necessary info to the shooter and control the trigger in the “guided” firing mode.