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Spotting a shooter with sound waves

Bullet Ears

Technology helps pinpoint snipers

November 3, 1997
Web posted at: 2:17 p.m. EST (1917 GMT)

FORT BENNING, Georgia (CNN) -- It's easy to hear a gunshot but often hard to tell where it came from. But that may change, thanks to new technology called "Bullet Ears" that uses sound to pinpoint instantly the source of gunfire.

The U.S. military is testing the system, which may prove helpful in spotting snipers. "It uses both the shock wave and the muzzle blast to do a high-precision localization of the bullet flight path as well as the sniper location," says Greg Duckworth of BBN Technologies, the Massachusetts company that developed Bullet Ears.

The shock wave doesn't come from the direction of the rifle, so a person who hears a gunshot may be confused about where the shooter is, Duckworth explains. "(The shock wave) comes from the bullet path itself, so listeners out in the field will all hear the sound coming from a different direction."

See portions of Lori Waffenschmidt's report
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The ears in Bullet Ears are a series of microphones. Within seconds after a shot is fired, they send information to a computer that analyzes it and displays an "X" on a monitor showing where the bullet was fired.

Microphones 'see' bullet's path

In effect, the microphones "see" a bullet's path, says equipment analyst Chris Kearns, a civilian employee at the Army's Fort Benning, Georgia.

Testing at Fort Benning

Bullet Ears is just one system being tested by DARPA, the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency. Next on the drawing board is a type of Bullet Ears for individual soldiers, with 12 microphones mounted on a helmet.

And someday there may be a Bullet Ears variation that can track soldiers in combat.

Kearns, referring to conspiracy theories surrounding the 1963 assassination of President John Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, calls Bullet Ears technology a valuable aid. "If one of these had been sitting in Dealy Plaza, there would be no question how many weapons were there and no question of where they were."

Correspondent Lori Waffenschmidt contributed to this report.


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