The U.S. military has worked with the scientific community to develop systems to identify sniper locations for more than a decade. Pentagon leaders have already used at least two systems to track sniper fire -- the Boomerang and Pilar acoustic sensor system.
These systems use the sound created by the muzzle blast and/or the shockwave created by the bullet traveling at supersonic velocities to triangulate the location of a shooter. In order to best locate a shooter, the systems depend on networks of sensors. A processor collects the readings from the different sensors in the area and determines the location.
Vanderbilt's team has developed two modules of microphone sensors that can be connected to a smartphone. One is roughly the size of a pack of playing cards. It collects readings from both the muzzle blast and the shockwave to triangulate a location. For it to work, this version must have six nodes to get an accurate location, according to Akos Ledeczi, a member of Vanderbilt's team.
The second module is slightly larger, but it only requires two people to have the module and collect data in order to gain a reading. The second version only collects data on the shockwave, and it can detect the direction of the shot as well as a general estimate of its range, Ledeczi said.
This isn't the first time Ledeczi has worked on determining sniper locations. He led a team at Vanderbilt in 2007 that developed helmet mounted sensors that units could distribute and use to find snipers.
He said it made sense to develop a system for the smartphone because of their computing power and how prevalent they've become. Army leaders have said they eventually want to outfit all soldiers with smartphones in garrison and deployed. The 10th Mountain Division is set to deploy to Afghanistan with smartphone-like devices as part of Capability Set 13 and the Army Network.
However, Ledeczi said the project at Vanderbilt has run out of funding. The team is looking for a grant or Pentagon funding to continue their work. He said he could see uses for both military and police units.