New Camera Sees In Bullet Time

Here's your cool gadget of the week: a video camera that can follow speeding bullets midflight. I took a look at the gizmo, built by Nova Sensors Inc for the Air Force Research Laboratory, for Wired News. I've examined Nova's goods before. But this is the first time it's ability to mimic the Matrix's bullet time sequences has been revealed.FlashAndBullet2.jpgThe first videos -- which you can see via the Wired story -- are crude. But it's an impressive capability. Existing sniper-finding systems rely on radar or acoustic sensors. And they can be heavy, bulky, and are one more piece of kit to carry. Nova Sensors device (known as VAST) can be integrated into a thermal imager, devices which are small enough for personal use.Effectively, it could turn every round into a tracer bullet. Anyone firing at you would give themselves away immediately, even if the muzzle flash is hidden. From Nova President Mark Massies comments on the sensor, it sounds as though different types of rounds may have very different signatures, so enhanced software would not only be able to pinpoint the source of a shot, it could say what type of weapon is being fired. A system that tells you that two AK-47s and one AK-74 are firing from the upper story of Building A? Sounds pretty useful.Interestingly, right at the moment a new evaluation is being carried out using ShotSpotter acoustic sniper location system in conjunction with Boeing's ScanEagle UAVs. The idea is that the ShotSpotter indicates the location and Scan Eagle goes over to get a better look. A ScanEagle equipped with the VAST camera system would be a logical extension of this idea.(The bad guys could try to get around it by using bullets cast from ice when they are sniping, an approach only used so far in bad thrillers as far as I know. It's possible; it gives terrible ballistics and very limited lethality, but the bullets could not be tracked by the VAST system. Or at least, not until Massie's team spend five minutes on the software and get it to pick out cold objects against the warm background as well as hot ones.)If only Zapruder had had one of these, we would be able to see exactly how many bullets were fired at Kennedy and from what direction...There are likely to be a lot of other applications which are more prosaic than following bullets in flight. But as a first demonstration, its pretty impressive.-- David Hambling

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