Troops in patrol in Iraq are prone to sniper attacks that appear to come from nowhere and leaves almost no chance to return fire. It’s a vexing problem, but as this LiveScience article shows us, it’s a solvable problem.
Here’s the theory:
The sniper’s rifle bullet is en route travelling faster than sound, leaving a shockwave in its wake, expanding outward in a cone shape, while the bullet races ahead. In conjunction with this, the bullet’s supersonic flight is creating its own shockwave of air particles being pushed aside, this is different from the muzzle sound your ears are picking up.
With microphones set up in the surrounding area, the mics pic up the various shockwaves at different times and from there it’s a ‘simple’ matter of a proprietary algorithm to determine the source location of the rifle bullet.
The challenges with this?
A few challenges would be interference from natural sounds, reverb from surrounding buildings, the system monitoring for sniper locations may need to reside on a moving Humvee.
A system to do all of this exists today called ‘Boomerang’, was developed by BBN Technologies, has 100 of these units deployed to the field and the DoD has an outstanding order for 1000 more.
Other uses for this technology?
Possibly to identify guns based on sounds heard through 9-1-1 calls, or the National Parks Service may be able to leverage these to monitor natural areas and study trends of animals.