Editor’s note: This article by Robert Johnson originally appeared on Business Insider.
The possibilities for failure in long-range shooting are as immense as they are mind-numbing. Pitch, yaw, air density, heat, cold, the curve of the earth, and the planet’s rotation on its axis all conspire make shots at half-a-mile miss, on average, by about 30 feet.
Sandia Labs looks like they’ve changed all that with their new self-guided round, which sheds enough convention that it resembles a small missile more than a traditional bullet (via Katie Drummond at Danger Room).
Four-inches long, laser-guided, while sporting fins and a forward center of gravity, Sandia’s bullet has an optical sensor in the nose that guides it to the target, while an eight-bit processor running a proprietary algorithm steers the round as it flies. Sandia expects the new technology to be developed quickly and inexpensively.
Because of the bullet’s diminutive size compared to, say, a full-scale missile, the same flight corrections can be performed dozens of times per second in its Mach 2.1 flight. Sandia’s engineers expect to raise that speed to military requirements using customized gunpowder.
The following video shows the bullet leaving the barrel of a rifle. The round pitches (wobbles up and down) a lot after firing, but calms the farther it flies—an effect called “going to sleep” by experts. This phenomenon allows the round to achieve greater accuracy the farther it flies; a result that surprised everyone involved.