Small Alabama company makes device that locates snipers

AP via Wired News:

A sniper fires on American troops in Iraq. In the milliseconds before the bullet hits -- in fact, before the shot is even heard -- a computer screen reveals the gun's model and exact location. That's the kind of intelligence that can save soldiers' lives. The Army is currently testing the technology in combat.

The devices are made by Radiance Technologies, a small Alabama company, and differ in their approach to gunfire detection from systems already deployed in Iraq that rely on acoustics. Radiance's invention, WeaponWatch, is powered by infrared sensors that detect missiles or gunfire at the speed of light.

"Obviously when the first shot is fired, you can't do anything about it," said George Clark, president of the company founded in 1999. "But what it does do is it allows you to not have a second fired."

WeaponWatch is a major reason that Radiance, which had only three employees six years ago, now has 275. Over that period, it's been one of the 500 fastest-growing small businesses in the United States.

Nobody seems to dispute that WeaponWatch is the fastest such system on the market, but the challenge for company executives was persuading the Pentagon that those few extra nanoseconds provide any practical advantage over the existing sonar versions, which have a wider field of vision.

After all, human reflexes are far more sluggish than either light or sound.

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The system was tested on top of a building where there was a high concentration of insurgent gunfire. Within a few days, American troops were able to use WeaponWatch to return fire more rapidly, Smith said, resulting in a noticeable drop in enemy attacks.

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WeaponWatch picks up on the infrared signature of every weapon the moment it is fired, instantly identifying it from a database of thousands of weapons muzzle flashes.

Kimzey said that because the technology has become so mobile and keeps getting smaller, there's virtually no end to the possibilities. For example, the Marines recently tested a program that links the infrared detector to an automatic weapon. It would allow the combatant wielding that weapon to get a shot off almost immediately after the enemy fired.

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