How a less-lethal round became 'smart'

Smart rounds for an alternative less-lethal solution


The results of a quick Google image search on keywords “smart bullet” include a few cinematic pictures, among others, of a white streak in the sky. A couple of clicks and you’ll discover these pictures are of a microchipped bullet with the technology to hit the target—provided the target is at a known location.

Developed for the military, this technology apparently has the ability to penetrate a wall—without fragmentation—and “explode” on the other side. Sounds like a bad day.

While these pictures are attractive the only thing the SRT18 smart round shares with the previously mentioned concept is the microchip. That’s it. Sorry, no mystical white tracer streak. And, of course, there’s the “less-lethal” element to the SRT18 as well.

It seems less-lethal devices have been getting smarter and smarter with each passing year. At one time the term meant bean bags and rubber bullets, but within a certain range these still had the potential to cause a great amount of injury.

Bring in electricity. Electronic control devices launched a shocking revolution throughout the industry. Suddenly a simple tap of a trigger created a familiar warning buzz designed to try to coax suspects to finally “freeze.”

Others pushed electricity further with lasers and rays. Pain rays—as they are commonly referred to—sounded futuristic and extremely attractive without firing one single object. These solutions shine a light onto the target creating a hot/burning sensation, some even trigger a nauseating feeling.

A different way

About four years ago, Nick Verini, a mechanical engineer and owner of Brighton, Colo.-based SmartRounds Technology (SRT) looked at the launcher side of law enforcement’s less-lethal and the military’s non-lethal industries and thought there might be a better way.

The company started with a small pistol-sized launcher designed for law enforcement, says Verini. “We wanted [officers] to be able to carry it in a holster rather than the big M4-type launcher … and then we weren’t happy with the round; the rubber bullets aren’t quite the answer, the pepper balls aren’t quite the answer. So we started looking at what other rounds could you possibly have and we put our thoughts together and started working on some concepts.”

Their thoughts eventually grew—or compressed—into the SRT18 round.

As mentioned earlier this less-lethal round includes a custom-built microchip controlling other very small high-tech items: sensors for acceleration, deceleration, and a centrifugal force-based generator. All these start to work together immediately from firing. The launcher’s rifling creates the spin which, in turn, powers the chip.

To help put into perspective the size of this chip, the number 18 in SRT18 stands for 18 mm, which puts the whole round at .68 caliber.

So, it’s a large paintball with a brain?

There are similarities between the paintball and the SRT18. One, both are able to carry a payload. Two, both are made of a brittle plastic, decreasing the chance of penetration. The difference comes from how the round breaks, not that it breaks. The paintball uses the impact’s energy to burst. The SRT18 uses its mechanics inside, instead.

Once an impact is detected, according to Verini, sensors expel its payload in about one to two miliseconds, reducing the chance of penetration.

Currently the SRT18 comes available with two payload options. The ShockRound has a small amount of liquefied compressed gas expanding upon impact which has been designed to attack three of the target’s five senses. Alternatively, a smart pepper round—currently in development—would work much like the ShockRound, but with an OC-based gas.

The round itself is “D” shaped and comes in two types: with the tiny generator (MEMS, micro-electrical mechanical system) and without (MMS, micro-mechanical system). Sensors in the latter detect the acceleration and deceleration rates mechanically.

Launchers

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