Category Archives: Weapons of Tomorrow

We’d Have Called it the Drone Dropper… or Drone-B-Gon

This anti-drone device is going viral. They’ve clickbaited it well by calling it the Skynet anti-drone rifle, and it can directionally jam the GPS signals a drone needs to navigate, and the wireless video downlink.

skynet-anti-drone-rifle-3The two white and black “barrels” are directional antennae in two separate GHz ranges. The backpack is the necessary power source. Anyone who’s got Electronic Warfare experience will tell you jamming is a power-intensive activity.

skynet-anti-drone-rifle-1If you look at all the pictures available on the company’s website, and watch the video (below), the whole thing appears to be built on a (partial? modified?) AR-15 receiver, with a standard M4 receiver extension and stock. A bit overkill for just something to hang an arduino, a transmitter, and some highly directional (< 10º) antennae on, but it kind of makes sense to give people a familiar interface, and the AR-15 is the point and click interface for the 21st Century.

Along with this video, there’s a new one showing a live test. They claim a “suppression ratio” (difference between the range from the Skynet operator to the drone and the drone controller to the drone) of 8:1, which means (thinking of power squares here) that this jammer has vastly more power than the controller.

The two signal rangess it can jam are 1.450 GHz – 1.650 GHz and 2.380 GHz – 2.483 GHz, but it can only jam one at a time. Available hacks for, for example, the DJI Phantom drone (the one in the video) can take the drone control out of the target range, and could practically be developed for the video range.

There are a few other problems with it, to wit:

  1. As a jammer, it is almost certainly illegal to use in the USA. The Federal Communications Commission takes a dim view of jamming, and has considerable technical and legal resources it deploys to punish violators.
  2. It’s only effective against some common commercial drones and is unlikely to have any impact on a more sophisticated government or military system, which is likely to use robust, high-availability communications, and have backup onboard navigation (usually inertial) that’s immune to jamming or meaconing.
  3. It requires clear line-of-sight to the drone, ergo, it’s only useful as a point-defense weapon.
  4. It requires a human operator and visibility of the target. (How would it work in the dark, against a drone deploying LLLTV? We suppose there’s a Picatinny rail upon which you can mount an image intensifier or thermal sight).
  5. It has the scent of early prototype all over it, and is a long way from a commercial product or (alternatively) a flexible R&D platform. But even experimenting with this thing brings you back around into the sights of the FCC.

Finally, this is, we think, the firm’s first video, from May.

All in all, it smells to us like a gimmick. And within the range of this thing, there are other ways to take out a drone (one lady pestered by paparazzi drones seeking spy shots of a celebrity neighbor demonstrated her wingshooting skills and blew the drone to Kingdom Come. The paparazzi boarded their Range Rover — apparently invading privacy pays well — and were last seen heading back for Gawker HQ or whatever glutinous sump whence they emerged).

This is not the only anti-drone product out there. As well as other jammers, there are counter-drone drones that ram them or drop nets or cables onto their rotors. All of them are similarly immature at present, and no one knows if they represent a real market segment or just hobbyists tinkering.

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

They’re not just working on a real world Invisibility Cloak. They’re working to make the message the shadowy IMF sent Jim Phelps back in 1966 a reality:

And not only messages that self-destruct in five seconds. Things that do.

DARPA is working on two separate programs here. One of them is called VAPR, or Vanishing Programmable Resources, and, as the agency itself tells the story, it…

…seeks electronic systems capable of physically disappearing in a controlled, triggerable manner. These transient electronics should have performance comparable to commercial-off-the-shelf electronics, but with limited device persistence that can be programmed, adjusted in real-time, triggered, and/or be sensitive to the deployment environment.

This is not just a way of ensuring the non-propagation of the boss’s message to Jim Phelps, here, but also:

Transient electronics may enable a number of revolutionary military capabilities including degradable environmental sensors or medical devices for diagnosis, treatment and health monitoring in the field. Large-area distributed networks of sensors that can decompose in the natural environment (eco-resorbable) could provide critical data for a specified duration, but no longer. Alternatively, devices that resorb into the body may aid in continuous health monitoring and treatment in the field.

Any imaginative person interested in military and intelligence affairs can think of some uses for such a thing. Imagine, for instance, a cryptological device that self-destructs if it doesn’t exchange a “proof of life” heartbeat signal from its encrypted network at intervals. Losing a crypto unit would no longer require a wholesale rekeying of an entire unit or operation. By the time it’s on an enemy cryptologist’s bench, it’s an inert lump — or, even, completely vanished — VAPR-ized, you might say. There are more sinister and kinetic applications as well. How do you put someone on trial for a shooting if his gun vanishes from the evidence locker? Or, you could secure a flank with scatterable mines, secure in the knowledge that they will evanesce before your counterattack.

DARPA has been working on this kind of technology since 2013.

VAPR has shown products — no-kidding vanishing materials — that a follow-on article describes as:

…small polymer panels that sublimate directly from a solid phase to a gas phase, and electronics-bearing glass strips with high-stress inner anatomies that can be readily triggered to shatter into ultra-fine particles after use.

(Prince Rupert called. He likes what you’re doing with his Drops).

The same project manager who is in charge of the more general program, DARPA’s Troy Olsson, runs a specific instantiation of the idea as well. Project ICARUS (Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems) is spending some millions on delivery vehicles that would be based on the vanishing polymer technology developed under VAPR, such as drones or parachutes. The “Inbound” means they’re initially working at a way to deliver things to individuals or groups in denied areas, such as agents, guerillas, etc., so at this point the vanishing drones and chutes are meant to go into friendly areas.

darpa icarus comic

They held a proposer’s day in 2015 for Icarus (and here); the contract was awarded to MORSE Corp. in June.

The specific contract (Amendment 2) says that its object is this:

DARPA seeks proposals for the design and prototyping of vanishing air delivery vehicles capable of precise, gentle drops of small payloads. These precision vehicles must be guaranteed to rapidly physically disappear following safe payload delivery. Proposed efforts must integrate engineered vanishing materials into advanced aerodynamic designs to produce an autonomously vanishing, field- testable prototype vehicle by the end of the two-year program.

DARPA goes on to explain the problem at some length.

Precise air delivery to resupply operators or humanitarian teams on the ground requires disposable, low-cost, systems capable of carrying small payloads. This capability does not currently exist as the state-of-the-art systems are expensive (UAVs) or require pack-out of the system by the recipients (parachute-based systems). To resolve this capability gap for the nation, DARPA seeks innovative research proposals in the area of vanishing, precision air delivery vehicles capable of carrying small (up to ~3 lbs.) payloads. These systems should be capable of release from high altitude and must vanish while safely delivering their payload. Proposed research should investigate innovative approaches that enable revolutionary advances in science, devices, or systems. Specifically excluded is research that primarily results in evolutionary improvements to the existing state of practice.

That last line is classic DARPA. They don’t want incremental or evolutionary, they want moon shots. Here’s how they explain the mission (one mission) at an UNCLAS level, and identify the credibility gap:

Supply and re-supply of small military and civilian teams in difficult to access territory currently requires the use of large, parachute-based delivery systems that must be packed-out after receipt of the payload both for operational security and environmental concerns. Small items including additional batteries, communications devices, or medical supplies – especially those requiring cold storage – could be supplied/resupplied using low-cost, disposable aircraft to sniper or Special Forces teams operating in difficult to access areas. These small teams aggressively minimize their loads and carry only the most critical supplies. Often extenuating circumstances warrants emergency supply such as critical combat casualty care in remote locations where medical evacuation is delayed. Even the availability of a small, 10 lbs. ventilator could significantly improve critical care outcomes downrange. The medical supply problem can be especially problematic in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) missions where the storage requirements of insulin, anti-venom treatments, and blood/plasma products limit their availability in remote locations or infrastructure-poor regions. For operators and even HADR personnel, delivery vehicles that do not require pack-out can simplify their operations and limit the environmental impact of a widespread response. Finally, operators in hostile territories require protection of their team’s location. As such, maintaining operational security forbids leaving behind supply vehicles. Weighed against the load concerns of pack-out this presents a logistical conundrum.

A critical capability gap exists in eliminating the leave-behind of air vehicles used to deliver supplies to personnel on the ground without requiring pack-out. Such pack-out of these systems is cumbersome, time-consuming, and adds significant weight to the individuals’ loads. DARPA is seeking to develop autonomous, precision, air delivery vehicles that both safely deliver their package(s) and physically vanish, i.e. the vehicle’s physical disappearance is part of its mission specification. Such a system would enable efficient resupply to teams in distributed locations, eliminate the need to repack/pack-out delivery parachutes resupplying small operating forces downrange, and create a capability to safely, and without detritus, deliver time-critical humanitarian supplies (e.g. food, perishable medical supplies) to civilian/NGO personnel serving in remote or dangerous areas.

Challenging, isn’t it? Wait till they get to specifics:

The Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems program (ICARUS) aims to develop a core capability to fill this gap for the DoD and nation through the development of vanishing, precision, air delivery vehicles for small (< 3 lb.) packages. These systems should:

  1. Fully vanish within four hours of payload delivery or within 30 minutes of morning civil twilight (assuming a night drop), whichever is earlier.

    "I don't understand... it was here five minutes ago!"

    “I don’t understand… it was here five minutes ago!”

  2. Precisely drop an up to 3 lb. payload within 10 m of the target landing spot programmed prior to air release.
  3. Exert < 100 G (1 ms peak, half sine wave) on the payload throughout its delivery.
  4. Cover a lateral distance of > 150 km when released from a stationary balloon at 35,000 feet.
  5. Span fewer than 3 m in its longest dimension.

#4 seems to exclude most traditional air-delivery parachutes, as well as unpowered gyrogliders (too low a glide ratio, approximately 4:1 in the case of the unpowered gyro). So you’re looking at an improvement in the capability of that technology of a very great degree, or you’re looking at a fixed or ram air wing, probably with significant on-board thrust of some kind.

No system currently exists that fulfills the complete specifications described above. State-of-the- art precision delivery using Tandem Offset Resupply Delivery Systems (TORDS), Joint Precision Airdrop Systems (JPADS), or civilian quadcopters or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) typically require complex materials and/or controllers to meet the aerodynamic requirements, but simply cannot vanish. Furthermore, precision notwithstanding, no air delivery vehicles have been fielded with a disappearing or transience capability. Recent advances produced in both DARPA’s Vanishing, Programmable Resources (VAPR) program and in the wider materials science literature indicate the potential for triggered, transient structural materials that may be applied to the aeronautics problem posed herein. DARPA defines transience as full and complete physical disappearance (to the naked eye) of a complete system and its constituent materials – independent of the surrounding environment. As such, any remnants must be < 100 μm on the longest dimension. Implementation of the transient materials in the VAPR program has advanced the transience characteristics (e.g., rate, triggering) while simultaneously improving the structural properties (e.g., Young’s modulus) for their application to various types of electronic packaging and substrates. The VAPR program has partially de-risked the main materials tradeoffs between transience rate, stability and modulus. Further innovations in materials engineering, subsequent materials scale-up, and incorporation into a high-precision aerodynamic design will require cohesive, multidisciplinary teams working in a well-integrated fashion to produce a working design and fabricate a field-testable prototype.

DARPA is interested in the fundamental question of whether a large, functional structure can be made transient. This will have impact in many different core areas where a leave behind will have environmental and/or unintended logistical consequence. There is a potential future where systems can be made cheap enough to be disposable limiting the logistics trail, and maximizing range for a given flight system.

We’ll give you one more block-o-text from the DARPA proposal Amendment 2, but there’s more there:

ICARUS seeks to design, prototype, and demonstrate an autonomous, guided, precision, vanishing air delivery vehicle capable of delivering a small package (up to 3 lbs.) to a GPS-programmed location (10 m accuracy). Following a night drop, the air delivery vehicle must completely, physically disappear within 4 hours of payload delivery or within 30 minutes after morning civil twilight, whichever is earlier. To be considered not visible to the naked eye, DARPA nominally quantifies physical disappearance, or transience, as producing remnants not exceeding 100 μm on the longest dimension. Preferably, the orientation of the payload with respect to the ground will be maintained after delivery (i.e. the payload will be delivered right side up). Since transient electronic microsystems are currently under development in the VAPR program, this BAA allows for the proposed vehicles to carry a guidance/control system exempt from the transience requirements provided it is housed in a package no larger than a tennis ball (max. volume 146 cm3) with a maximum ellipsoidal aspect ratio of 3:1. Any components of the vehicle existing outside of the tennis ball package must be transient. Camouflaging schemes, removal or departure of the vehicle, and other approaches that would be described as “technically disappeared” are not of interest to DARPA and are considered non-responsive. Delivery vehicles may land with the payload at the landing zone (LZ) or proceed to a different location after safely dropping the payload. In both cases, the vehicle must be completely transient. Multi-stage implementations (analogous to multi-stage rockets) are within scope, again provided all stages are fully transient regardless of whether initial stages land at a distance from the payload LZ. Simply put, if the proposed delivery system does not fully vanish it will be deemed non-responsive – transience is the highest priority design requirement. Prototypes developed under ICARUS must be field- testable in the specified environmental conditions by program end. As such, while ICARUS will include some limited fundamental research, the program’s overall objective is to demonstrate a field-testable prototype by the end of its second year and is not considered a fundamental research program.

They want applied research, not lab tomfoolery. But man, it definitely is a moonshot.

Along with MORSE, the Bettinger Group and the Matyjaszewski Polymer Group (ventures of two Carnegie-Mellon University engineering professors) are working on ICARUS technologies. Both have experience with degradable and time-limited materials. CMU calls it “sci-fi tech.” A contract has also been awarded to DZYNE Technologies of Fairfax, VA and Irvine, California.

Faster, please!

“Black Spot” and Night Battlefield Dominance

NC-123k period 2In 1967, the Air Commandos began to develop a night special operations gunship capability called Project Black Spot. They leveraged the capabilities of primitive imagery intensifiers to create an aircraft that could defeat the darkness and interdict enemy movement in areas where the threat situation was too “hot” for a low-and-slow-flying fixed-wing gunship. While a couple of these areas were obviously the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia, the ship was also used to hunt clandesting agent-landing boats off the coasts of South Korea.

nc123k

The airframe selected was the Fairchild C-123K Provider, which after modification was called the NC-123 (formal name) or AC-123 (as used by crews). Instead of side-firing guns, the Black Spot birds had cluster bomb unit (CBU) dispensers and carried a war load of over 6,000 1-lb dual-purpose CBUs, of which 24 could be delivered (2 x 12-unit racks) in a single pass. The CBU racks could then be in-flight reloaded by the crew.

Some sources say three airframes were modified, but only two show up in most references: 54-691 and 54-698.

NC-123k period photo

The key to the system was the sensors: X-Band Radar, Doppler terrain-following radar, night-vision Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR), night-vision Low Light Level TV (LLLTV), a Radar Homing and Warning (RHAW) countermeasures device, and a laser range-finder/illuminator.  Some of these systems were new, and some had been developed for strategic bombers, but taken together they greatly improved the situational awareness of the crew.

In a harbinger of what was to come, the the TFR, FLIR and LLLTC were housed in a gimbaling “ball” in the nose.

c-123k pod

The outcome of the Korean tests is unknown. The Vietnam theater tests were successful, despite the aircraft having gross weight and density altitude limitations. In addition, a limitation of the cluster bomb dispenser required the pilots to fly the plane at 4,800 feet — no more, no less.

At the end of the test, the NC-123s were converted back to ordinary C-123K trash haulers. All of the sensors proven on the NC-123 were used in subsequent gunships.

Not all experimental sensors from this period went forward. Black Crow, for example, was a truck-ignition detector that zeroed in on the ignition “noise” produced by unshielded wires in the typical Otto-cycle gasoline engine’s spark-ignition system. It was deadly effective on the trucks of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but wouldn’t work on newer trucks. Black Crow was only installed on -698, but did become standard on the AC-130s for a time.

Proving this technology on large airplanes like transports and bombers was necessary and laid fundamental groundwork for US dominance in low-light sensing systems in present years. It is a matter of some concern that, while we continue to exploit, miniaturize and field these 1960s technologies, the rate of development has slowed, and we’re resting on our, sometimes 1960s-vintage, laurels.

Sources

Chinnery, Philip D. Air Commando: Inside The Air Force Special Operations Command. London: Airlife Press, 2008. pp. 210-218. 

Johnson, E.R. American Attack Aircraft Since 1926. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2008. pp. 210-211.

Images found here and there on the internet.

The 3D Printing Revolution is Over, and other Developments

We’ve had a few interesting developments in home and small office firearms prototyping lately.

The 3D Printing Revolution is Over, Part I

red_flagIn a way, the 3DP revolution is over. The revolutionaries won. Every firm in the industry that we have personal knowledge of, from the great (exchange-listed Ruger) to the small (single-digit prototype shops) is using 3D printing in prototype development or even in manufacturing. For example, Ruger’s investment-casting shop, which also casts for competitors and other third parties, Pine Tree Castings, is directly printing lost-wax patterns on two industrial printers; time, energy, and recycling effort are all signally reduced.

The firms that are not using this technology are very small, practically one-man shops, and even they are often using 3D computer design tools and CNC. For the same reason that even the starving writer in his garret is hammering on computer keys and not his granddad’s Underwood: new tools have produced an explosion in individual productivity.

Productivity and Computer Technology

Computers directly enable productivity. For example, imagine this blog in the pre-computer (or even, pre-Internet) era. The “posts” or items would be typed on paper, then reproduced into a newsletter, and mailed to subscribers. It would lose immediacy and volume for sure; it would take us much more work to produce much less.

Computers also indirectly enable productivity by increasing information flow, both in terms of volume and rate. (An ironic by-product of that is that a whole new application for computers became necessary: tools to search, sort and amplify what is to any particular user his desired signal amidst all the noise (some of which is pure noise, but most of which is someone else’s desired signal). Economists have had great success in recent decades by describing economic activity in terms of flows, not of 18th-Century concepts like capital and labor, but of information. Freeing the flow of information from unnatural restrictions generally benefits the society and the individual. It usually scares the pants of some people, especially the ones who used to be able to control the flows.

Computers moved much more slowly into actual production of tangible products, but they’re there now, and making a similarly revolutionary change on the factory floor that Steve Jobs promised to “knowledge workers” in 1983-5 when he introduced the Apple Lisa and, later, the Macintosh Office. Some of those ideas misfired in their first implementation (early Lisas and Macs are collectors’ items today), but the marketplace iterated rapidly and effectively and still does.

Today’s computer manufacturing technology is still relatively primitive, when compared to its potential; we’re about where Steve’s “Macintosh Office” was 30 years ago.

Meanwhile, in Washington DC & Around the World

Just as manufacturing of products becomes disintermediated and dissociated from large integrating manufacturing/marketing/distribution organizations, we have our version of a Luddite spectacle. A bunch of politicians, most of them captive of the economic and political concepts of prior centuries, are making a childish display of themselves, and demanding restrictions on production and ownership of a product, firearms. But they are asking the impossible: guns can be produced under the most precarious of conditions by the most primitive of shops. They do this because they want to redirect anger and retribution away from the actual generator of the recent outrage, Wahhabi/Salafi Islam, and towards targets whose destruction they would find more personally gratifying.

The guy who last changed your brake pads and wiper blades probably has everything in his shop necessary to produce automatic weapons. In fact, another terrorist outrage you may not have heard about recently occurred in Israel where two assclowns inspired by Islam attacked a restaurant with submachine guns.

Back in February, more homebrew SMGs were used in attacks on Israeli cops.

Damascus Gate SMG 1

The SMGs, made under embargo conditions in clandestine workshops in the lawless Palestinian territories, were improvised weapons. (One of which did fail during the attack. Testing is an aspect of manufacturing that technology can’t replace).

You certainly heard about the murder of left-leaning British politician Jo Cox, in the land of no handguns, Great Britain. Cox was killed with a crude improvised pistol based on an ancient US Army improvised guns manual.

Non-factory guns can be very sophisticated

Don’t take our word for it, just peruse the Impro Guns blog. Here’s a Thai pepperbox in .22LR.

revolvingweaponthailand

This next picture is not a TEC-9. Take a good look! It’s a clandestine-shop knock-off open-bolt SMG, seized by cops in Canada last year. Restrict all guns and “prohibit” the scary ones, as Canadian laws do, and this is what anyone who wants a gun might as well build. He’s as well hung for a sheep as a lamb, eh?

Canada-firearmsoffences-submachinegun

Here’s a shot of Browning-style pistols produced in a one-house clandestine factory in Talcher, Odisha, India that was seized by police in the summer of 2015.

Indian Impro 2015

And here’s video of a (US, legal) home-built .25 pistol.

Here’s the build of the same (18 minutes). Tools used include a drill press, welding equipment and circular and saber saws. He does use some well-chosen cutting tools, like end mills and reamers, and uses a rifling machine of his own manufacture. ses At one point he improvises an end mill from a drill bit (per the plans he is using). He uses the name “Clinton Westwood” which we’re sure is what his mother named him; his YouTube Channel, Clinton’s Cheap Workshop, is full of must-watch TV.

Clinton’s new adventure is making a larger, 1911-styled .380 blowback pistol. He just started in April and has made good progress, so go to the YouTube channel, click Videos, and enjoy.

You might want to archive the videos, in case YouTube (which is owned by Google, which is either owned by or owns the Clinton — Hillary, not Westwood — campaign) disappears them and unpersons Westwood in the future.

The 3D Printing Revolution is Over, Part II

In another way, the 3DP revolution is over. Many of the revolutionaries of the first wave have gone much more quiet, perhaps because they’re involved in other things, or perhaps for some other reason. Maybe they’re under pressure from a lawless DOJ determined to find terrorists everywhere except among Islamic terrorists!

Cody Wilson? Tied up in a lawsuit, his new book, and the GhostGunner project. Now, the project isn’t idle. Here’s a new video posted this week on the GG2:

And the company released a new manual for the GG1 and GG2, and new software, on 1 June, including the first MacOS version of DDCut.

James R. Patrick? Website gone, although his .STLs have made it into the distribution. Have Blue? Hasn’t tweeted since December. Is he a Norwegian Have Blue, pining for the fjords? ArmaDelite? Not since April 7. Ma Deuce? Showing a heartbeat, at least. He posted a YouTube video in his channel about two months ago, for the first time in a year.

But RollaTroll is still with us (even if his last tweet was a Weaponsman link a couple weeks ago).

And the thing is, it doesn’t matter if some of the original founders of the 3D printed arms movement 3+ years ago have gone silent, gone Hollywood, gone to ground, or gone underground: a new generation is supplementing, and where necessary, replacing them. And the new generation is larger, and the generation they energize will be exponentially larger still.

The genie’s out, and anybody waving a bottle and muttering get-back-in incantations at this point just looks ridiculous.

We, for one, Welcome Our New Polymer Overlords

Let’s have another one from Guy in a Garage. In this case, he’s test-firing a James R Patrick Songbird .22.

You see some of the limitations of the 3D printed plastic firearm here.

But you also see some potential.

Barrels were never going to be the best test case for fused filament fabrication type 3D printing, for the same reason that even commercial manufacturers deeply committed to polymer firearms parts have never produced polymer barrels.

Polymer receivers go back almost 60 years to the Remington Nylon 66 (1959) and its derivatives, which had unitary receivers and stocks of DuPont Nylon 6/6, a polyamide that was then one of the toughest injection-moldable plastics available. Polymer handguns go back nearly almost 40 years — to 1979-82 and the development and launch of the Glock 17. Millions and millions of polymer frames have been made, but zero commercial polymer barrels.

There have been experimental barrels that were made of wound fiberglass, or fiberglass around a metallic rifled liner, such as the ones that Armalite of Hollywood, California experimented with for shotguns and some early AR-10 prototypes.

AR-10 barrel blowout Image 12590-SA Springfield

These early experiments left some of the Springfield greybeards wondering if Armalite was sourcing parts from Acme…

Springfield-AR-10-blowup-close-up

177913-1…and having them installed by graduates of the Wile E. Coyote School of Gunsmithing.

Modern composite technology such as carbon fiber filament and tow, and filament winding machinery, has finally brought the technology into line with Armalite’s vision. Carbon fiber (lined, of course) barrels have also been adapted to modern rimfire arms as well.

What does this mean for the future of polymers? Well, it’s a fact that after all these years, good old Nylon 6/6 is still a competitive material for high impact uses. What has happened in the injection molding industry over that span of time is increasing use of inserts and overmolding to make molded parts out of multiple materials.

This is almost certainly the wave of the future — or one wave of the future — in 3D printed firearms parts. Many printers now have the capability to print in multiple materials or to pause for the insertion of an insert (such as a threaded socket for a screw; you’ve probably seen molded plastic parts with inserts like these).

We can still expect 3D printing to be used for convenience, short runs & micromanufacturing, customization and personalization, prototyping, making jigs and fixtures, and making molds and patterns for traditional manufacturing processes.

But if you really want to, you can make a gun out of it.

Silencerco SWR Radius Rangefinder

Silencerco says the objective of its Silencerco Weapons Research subsidiary is “to bring advanced technology to the public at an attainable price.” We had not heard of that, or of SWR for that matter, until they came up claiming mission accomplished: “with the announcement of a capability-heavy range finder for only $999, we’ve done just that.”

Have they? Here’s a silent (apart from music and maybe gunshots) video of the SWR Radius in action.

This video describes some of the capabilities:

Sure, it’s not TrackingPoint, but TrackingPoint is not available for pre-order at $995, either.

The Tracking Point system includes several other modules, such as an air data computer that accounts for atmospherics (density, ambient pressure, altitude, temperature), a ballistics computer that knows the bullet performance at a given range, an aiming point module that adjusts the digital reticle on to target, a target reference module that “understands” where a marked (“tagged”) target is in three dimensions, and trigger control that, in a digital update to the way a Contstantinesco gear interrupted fire of a World War I fighter plane unless the propeller was clear of the trajectory, only allows the trigger to fire when the aimpoint is on target.

A unit like this, if it were able to output data through an RS232/RS422 port or something like that,  could be a component of such a system, and if the rangefinder alone succeeds, the likelihood that SWR builds in this direction is increased.

Of course, the one nut that even TrackingPoint has yet to crack is wind.

None of these developments are really, in the truest sense of the word, inventions. They’ve all been around for a century, manually calculated and optically ranged, in naval gunnery, and for most of a half century (including laser ranging) in tank gunnery. The new development is this technology reaching levels of portability and affordability where it can be installed on (or in) an individual weapon.

There are  couple less in-your-face developments embedded in the Radius. One of these is the display of not just one, but the top three range returns. This is a big deal if you’re engaging a target screened by vegetation, a chain link fence, or any of the other embuggerments that give a laser rangefinder a false return.

Another is the selectable use of visible and IR laser. The two lasers coalign, so that the laser can be boresighted or sighted-in with the visible laser, and then switch to the IR for actual field use, and use it with confidence.

This suggests that, while full firing system integration à la TrackingPoint is one way this can go, there are other ways. For example, a unit integrating this laser capability (in milspec strength) with current IR/visible laser floodlight and point illumination would be catnip to the military services.

How would you use this? No manual is posted yet, but a .pdf spec sheet is available.

And as an exit video: here, they’re hinting at some future capabilities.

Dude, where’s my jetpack?

3D Update for 8 April 2016

Here’s a few things that may be useful or entertaining to people working with, exploring, or just interested in this technology.

AR-15 Printed Lower: Print Bed to Ready to Load in 20 min

This video shows what appears to be the real time assembly of a FOSSCAD Vanguard lower from the print bed to a complete (if sightless) AR.

We’d quibble about some of his shortcuts and techniques — no, a piece of copper wire is not a suitable substitute for a roll pin, and while it’s neat that he used 3D printed pivot and takedown pins, how are they retained? Oh, they’re not — but we’ve been telling you for years that this technology was maturing, and now we’re showing you.

We suspect this fellow’s channel is going to be worth watching in the future.

Shuty MP-1 by Derwood Night Fire (10 sec. video).

We’ve discussed the gun before, here’s a video of it shooting at night.

Unlike his earlier versions of the Shuty, Derwood won’t be publishing these files on SendSpace. He also notes that the MP-1 still is limited; 18 rounds is all it takes to soften the thermoplastic around the barrel. Of course, he’s already working on improvements, as an intellectual exercise in home workshop engineering.

The media reaction to his firearm has been… interesting. Even 3D Printing industry journalists are journalists at heart, and can’t see this except through the prism of their anti-gun politics. For example, Benedict at 3Ders.org tut-tuts that “the relatively new phenomenon of open-source, downloadable firearms seems to promise a greater deal of harm than good,” whines that, “the maker circumvented all gun control laws, creating a totally legal weapon without so much as an ID check,” and closes with, “So is it sensible to put lethal weapons in the hands of all and sundry with an internet connection and 3D printer?” Andy Greenberg at Wired, long prone to involuntary incontinence in his Aeron over this issue, hyperventilates similarly: “Deadly, working guns that anyone can generate with a download,” that have “spooked gun control advocates” — those unnamed “gun control advocates” being named, naturally, “Andy Greenberg” — and “successfully circumvented all gun control laws”.  Our only question to Benedict and Greenberg is, “With your string of pearls in one hand and your blankie in the other, how do you type your articles?”

3D Printed Rimfire Stuff

We had been unaware of the 3D action over on RimfireCentral.com, a membership forum. Lots of 3DP based threads there, including:

 

Spud Gun Camera Module

GoPro Spudgun roundNow we get silly. Here’s a “projectile” that lets you fire a GoPro camera from a spud gun and recover the camera, rather than see it dashed to pieces. Well-engineered, with spring-loaded stabilizing fins just like “real” FS smoothbore rounds. You’re on your own for more martial applications, and mind the Destructive Device laws.

Yes, this is very silly. And?

Mark One Reinforced Printing

This is the Mark One in action. This is not ours, it’s Sumdood’s, but we finally have time to work on ours this week! The Mark Two is even cooler as it can winkle the reinforcing fiber into smaller areas… the Mark One can’t turn the reinforcing around a corner any smaller than the size of a quarter.

 

Exotic Fibers for Everyday Printers

Of course, the Mark Forged printers require proprietary fibers. But exotic fibers are becoming available to open-source printer users as well. Here’s an enthusiastic young Australian named Angus showing off a quadcopter frame with arms of four different materials: common ABS and PLA, and exotic Thermoplastic Polyurethane (rubbery) and Colorfabb Carbon Fiber (rigid).

One of Angus’s really good ideas: using a raft of ABS as the basis for the exotic print. (A “raft” is an expendable base laid down underneath the “money” print). The sales page for the TPU says don’t use rafts, and that’s because they mean, rafts of TPU. He also didn’t heed the warning about using steel nozzles with the carbon fiber, and he explains why.

Instead of laying continuous fiber reinforcement like the Mark Forged printers, the Colorfabb XT-CF20 “Carbon Fiber” filament seems to have sort of chopper gun microfilaments in it. The trade off is less reinforcement strength vs. more flexibility of employment.

Of course, the Mark Forged printers also use nylon as their basic material. Nylon. as we have seen, has significant advantages over PLA or ABS. (One of the nicest things about it is it does not emit a noxious smell).

Check out his channel, Maker’s Muse, it’s full of interesting stuff. He also has a video on “metal” filaments that you may have seen advertised.

Taulman3D Materials

Speaking of materials, especially nylon variations, but also a “better” PLA and an elastomer, all kinds of new stuff from taulman3D. Lots of horses for lots of courses there, and that link’s just their new stuff.

Update

Know those Shuty 4.0 MP-1 files that derwood wasn’t going to release? Well, he didn’t, but….

 

Some 3D Printed Firearms Updates

It’s been a long time since we did one of these updates, so here are a few things we’ve picked up here and there.

Print Now, Rest Later

Here’s a practical print task: a 3D printable cheek rest for an AR-15 pistol. (Well, to the extent that an AR pistol is practical). As we understand it, if you shoulder the weapon (say, with a SIG brace) you are violating the SBR laws, but if you’re cheek-resting you’re all tickety-boo. This image is a rendering; a final print will have some striations to it, from most printers using the most common 3DP technologies.

3D Printable AR pistol cheek rest

Checked as of last night, the files are here: https://www.sendspace.com/file/386tvq

Happy printing & shooting.

About those striated parts

One of the problems with 3D printing, especially the Fused Filament Fabrication / Fused Deposition Molding type that is common, is that the parts often display layering, striations, and other artifacts that add up to a lousy surface finish. There are several ways to smooth 3D prints.

These include:

  • Mechanical Smoothing — this can be sanding or particle blasting; each has its pros and cons. Sanding is limited in how small a part you can do, bead blasting in how large. Bead blasting always produces a matte finish, although the coarseness or fineness of the finish depends on the blasting media. On a part large enough to be practically sanded, sanding can produce a finish limited primarily by time and the cost of skilled labor.
  • Chemical Solvent Smoothing — this involves exposing the part to solvent vapor. For example, for ABS, acetone vapor either cold or hot (hot vapor has definite safety limitations and concerns, but can produce a superior finish). Acetone doesn’t work with PLA as it’s not acetone-soluble. Acetone also reduces the strength of the part: its stiffness is reduced, and it fails under a lower load.
  • Finish Coating — for a cosmetic finish, a thick paint can be used to fill layer striations. This will, often enough, loop you back to sanding. This is cosmetic only and subject to wear.
  • Epoxy Coating — this does require some skill to pull off, but both fills and reinforces the part. This can be important with some liquid-based and powder-based laser 3D printers whose parts tend to be brittle; coating them with epoxy can make the printed part, in effect, a shear web and form inside a tough, flexible epoxy shell. This is good when the part needs to be employed as is, and not so good if the part is intended to be, say, a sacrificial casting pattern. (In that case, for lost-PLA casting for example, use one of the other procedures). Smooth-on sells an epoxy that’s optimized for this type of use and has several how-to and application videos on the web page.

For more information:

  1. Lindsey Frick in Machine Design on “How to Smooth 3D-Printed Parts.”
  2. Smooth-on’s gaudy page on their XTC-3D 3D Print Coating has lots of examples and tutorials.
  3. Here’s Make Magazine and Instructables with a pair of acetone-vapor tutorials.
  4. And here’s the story of a guy who went whole hog and built an ultrasonic vapor fogging chamber in hopes it would increase the strength of his prints (it actually weakened them). There’s a link in that article to an Instructable on building his fogger, too.

100 Rounds from a 3DP Pistol

Remember the original Liberator (well, the original 3D Printed Liberator, not the original original Liberator)? It was only good for a few shots. (Unless you were the New South Wales Police, and printed it without reading the instructions, in which case it blew up first shot). What use was it? But as Franklin said on being asked that of the invention of the French aeronauts, the Montgolfier brothers, “What use is a newborn baby?”

Well, here’s a 3D Printed pistol that has fired 100 rounds and is still going. 3D printed AR lowers long ago beat that number, but here’s a pistol that’s all 3D printed on consumer equipment, except for the mandatory weight and firing pin.

100-round-songbirdWe’re not sure whether this colorful print of this James R. Patrick design wants to be a toy, or whether it wants to be a Glock when it grows up.

A Practical Print for Almost Everyone

What’s this? It’s an AR Hammer Block. Use it when you want to function-check that lower you just monkeyed with, without running aground on the Scylla of letting the hammer slam into your expensive piece of aluminum (very expensive if it comes with a stamp), and the Charybdis of using your delicate pink (brown, whatever) thumb to intercept the falling hammer.

printed AR hammer block

A great, practical print. (The website it’s advertising is for a training device to use with your SIRT, not available to the general public yet). Hmmm… the “files” link at PrintedFirearm.com, went to a malware site: adf.ly! And downloaded a malware .exe! We’re not giving you that link.

OK, here’s another one instead, by Charles Lacey:

AR trigger pull test block

Files here, Grabcad is not a malware site: https://grabcad.com/library/ar-15-trigger-pull-test-block-all-set-for-3d-printing-1 (You do have to join Grabcad to download files, though).

Lacey also has a chamber flag, or as he calls it, a bore flag, on Grabcad, and a couple of Magpul mag floor plates, including a whimsical Flying Tigers version. We leave finding those as an exercise for the reader.

Large Format Printed Pistol Now Speaks Glock

shuty mp-1 pistolWe’ve showed the Shuty MP-1 before, a 3D printed pistol inspired by the designs of Luty. The pistol made a splash in the media some time ago, with the usual alarums and excursions, dogs and cats lying down together, and all the usual drivel you usually only hear in an election year. (This happened twice, actually — in February 2015 with the original Shuty, and in February 2016 with the improved MP-1).

Less publicized has been the Gluty — as you can see from the image below, it’s a Shuty reengineered for Glock mags. The image tells us it’s been printed but we’re not aware of how successfully it has been test fired — unlike the Shuty.

Gluty 3DP pistol

One of the biggest limitations of the Shuty is its magazine. Adapting to commodity Glock magazines is the easiest way to increase the magazine capacity of  this novel firearm. At the same time, the original files, with their included magazine files, allow the creation of a firearm where even the mags are unobtainable.

Of course, that still leaves the barrel as a tough nut to crack. Shuty and Gluty use the standard pistol barrels.

Printed AR Lower

This FOSSCAD JT Vanguard has been around for a while. This recent print, in ABS thermoplastic, shows some of the strengths of the design, and how the venerable AR form factor has had to change to adapt to these new materials and new processes. First shot shows it with an upper in the white. The grip and magazine are also printed.

FOSSCAD Vanguard JT ABS

The grip is also ABS. We’re not sure about the materials of the mag, and wonder if the buttstock is printed also. This next picture shows you just a few of the changes, including the bulkier pivot area, the much beefier buffer tower, and the thick reinforcements along the receiver outboard of the trigger group.

FOSSCAD Vanguard JT ABS CloseThis picture shows the trigger group in place. The reinforcement is clearly visible.

FOSSCAD Vanguard JT internal

There have been experiments with printed trigger-group components, but so far, they haven’t been very impressive. Materials and processes need further improvements.

Exotic Lower-stock Bipod Combination

This is the Atlas AR-15 lower, by WarFairy CAD. It has a certain FN P90 vibe to it. It’s meant to be used with a free-floating barrel and suitable handguard/rails system.

WarFairy Atlas

When one looks at some of these designs, one is reminded of Donald Sutherland’s character in The Dirty Dozen, impersonating a general. “Pretty, but can it fight?”

Atlas Files: https://www.sendspace.com/file/6f0cfo

Finally — MakerBot Hates You

MakerBot continues its extreme antigun position. How extreme? A design for a powder knob for a Dillon progressive reloader was banished to 404.

Funny, their 404 page says, “There is nothing awesome here… yet.” Well, there was before they deleted it!

MakerBot does not want our business? Transmission received.

Consider Ultimaker. Ultimaker advertises on PrintedFirearm.com, which is an interesting site to check from time to time. Beware of any of their links to adf.ly. Two we observed were both delivering malware yesterday, and probably still are.

Tracking Point. .300 BLK. Night Capable. $6995.

They’re positioning the new Tracking Point NightHawk as a Homestead Defense gun, but we’re seeing the king of all hog harvesters.

night hawk

This latest iteration of TP tech is supposed to list at a that’s-what-my-truck-cost $15.5k or so, but they’re jump-starting sales by selling the first 100 for $6995. Tracking Point writes:

The… NightHawk .300 Blackout. Designed for homestead defense, NightHawk has a fully integrated night vision capability and is offered at an introductory price of $6995 for the first 100 purchases – the lowest price ever offered for a Precision-Guided Firearm.

To us, the NightHawk seems like a slightly-decontented .300 version of their 5.56 M600 SR service rifle. Unlike the M600,  the NightHawk is limited to engaging targets at speeds of 7 mph.

A follow-up email had more on the special offer:

The TrackingPoint team would like to thank everyone for a tremendous response to our NightHawk product launch. We were overwhelmed by the genuine interest in our night vision system designed for homestead defense. The NightHawks have literally been soaring off the shelves!

“Literally soaring?” What, it’s a drone, too? Or is Vice President Biden, the National Mangler of “Literally,” writing TrackingPoint’s ad copy these days?

This is a notification that we have a limited supply of the first 100 NightHawks for the exclusive offer price of $6,995*. Place your order today to guarantee this discounted price and receive the most advanced Precision-Guided Firearm to date for the lowest price ever offered.

To place an order, please call (512) 354-2114

*MSRP $15,490

Tracking Point also offers financing now, which may make some of their pricy firearms more accessible to regular Joes. $7k is a lot for an AR, but considering that the scope and night vision are included, the delta between NightHawk and a build-it-yourself day/night rig is not as big as it seems at first.

Technically, the night vision is an add-on to the TrackingPoint system that uses an infrared illuminator (as in early active night-vision products, like the M3 Carbine and Infrared Snooperscope, or the infrared driving light on a 1960s Russian tank), but they claim it gives Generation II equivalent performance. The night vision capability is available as an option (including as a retrofit) for the rest of the TrackingPoint line. Here’s what they say about it:

NightHawk includes fully integrated Night Vision Kit which enables CMOS sensor technology to deliver Gen2-like night vision performance. After dark you are able to acquire and track targets just as you would in daylight. Nighthawk also includes a rail-mounted IR Illuminator.

Also, in a first as far as we know, the NightHawk has programs for TrackingPoint branded ammunition but also off-the-shelf ammunition using the Barnes 110 bullet. Previous TrackingPoint precision guided firearms have required TrackingPoint ammunition for predictable ballistic performance.

Other new capabilities (or perhaps, new description of an old capability) include a mode making the “tag” on a target automatically seek center of mass on that target, and using the TrackingPoint precision-guided system to enable image-stabilized shots from offhand to provide “firing supported” levels of precision and accuracy. The tagging system and guided trigger also increases hit probability on moving targets or on shot at stationary targets while shooting on the move.

The one question still open in our mind is this: how does it fare with a suppressor? Seems to be leaving a signature capability of 300 BLK behind, if it’s not suppressor-ready and can’t account for the point-of-impact shift that comes with most suppressors.

More information on the NightHawk is available on TrackingPoint’s website.

“The Soldier got a good cheek weld on the soft, warm fur of the stock.”

 

3d_printed_hairScience fiction? Right now it is, but it’s now science fact that it’s possible to add integral hair to 3D-printed items. Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University illustrated this using the most common form of plastic 3D printing, fused deposition modeling (also called Fused Filament Fabrication by some vendors).

They can make short, thick, rigid bristles, or soft, downy hair. The result makes hairs, fibers or bristles that taper naturally, almost organically, to a point. They write:

In this work, we introduce a technique for 3D printing soft strands, fibers, and bristles (Figure 1), using conventional fused deposition modeling (FDM). Our work was inspired by the peculiar phenomenon that occurs during the opera- tion of a handheld glue gun: when a person extrudes hot glue material and moves the gun away, a “string” of residue often forms unintentionally (Figure 2). The shape, length, and thickness of the resulting stringy material varies based on how much glue was extruded and how fast the user moves away from the extrusion point. This artifact often annoys users, but in this work, we exploit the phenomenon.

The scientists, Gierad Laput, Xiang ‘Anthony’ Chen, and Chris Harrison came at the problem from a human-computer interaction background and approach (they all work at CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute).

The bristles are deposited integrally as the brush is produced.

The bristles are deposited integrally as the brush is produced.

They did not use a high-end printer, but achieved their results with a Printrbot Simple, a ~$350 kit printer. They found that one way or another they could control the density, length, thickness, color, and distribution of the hairs or fibers. The hairs are also amenable to many kinds of post-processing. For the best results, they extrude the hairs horizontally, in the X or Y axis.

You can easily imagine some potential future developments, like a bespoke “hair” extruder that would lay down an array of hairs at once. Laput, Chen and Harrison have demonstrated the concept; now it’s up to the rest of the world to reduce it to practical applications.

Like a fur-bearing rifle stock. That’s perfectly and individually sculpted to your cheek weld.

They have also named the process: furbrication. Perfect!

The pre-publication paper (it is to be presented at a conference this month) is here on Laput’s server.  Hat tip, Caleb Garling at MIT Technology Review.

There are people who are not in the gun culture that think we are too attached to our firearms now. What’s going to happen when our guns are as soft and warm as a cuddly bunny?