Locate Snipers with a Smartphone

Vanderbilt sniperA team of researchers at Vanderbilt University has developed two hardware modules along with corresponding software that uses an Android smartphone to spot the location of a nearby shooter.

The U.S. military has worked with the scientific community to develop systems to identify sniper locations for more than a decade. Pentagon leaders have already used at least two systems to track sniper fire — the Boomerang and Pilar acoustic sensor system.

These systems use the sound created by the muzzle blast and/or the shockwave created by the bullet traveling at supersonic velocities to triangulate the location of a shooter. In order to best locate a shooter, the systems depend on networks of sensors. A processor collects the readings from the different sensors in the area and determines the location.

Vanderbilt’s team has developed two modules of microphone sensors that can be connected to a smartphone. One is roughly the size of a pack of playing cards. It collects readings from both the muzzle blast and the shockwave to triangulate a location. For it to work, this version must have six nodes to get an accurate location, according to Akos Ledeczi, a member of Vanderbilt’s team.

The second module is slightly larger, but it only requires two people to have the module and collect data in order to gain a reading. The second version only collects data on the shockwave, and it can detect the direction of the shot as well as a general estimate of its range, Ledeczi said.

This isn’t the first time Ledeczi has worked on determining sniper locations. He led a team at Vanderbilt in 2007 that developed helmet mounted sensors that units could distribute and use to find snipers.

He said it made sense to develop a system for the smartphone because of their computing power and how prevalent they’ve become. Army leaders have said they eventually want to outfit all soldiers with smartphones in garrison and deployed. The 10th Mountain Division is set to deploy to Afghanistan with smartphone-like devices as part of Capability Set 13 and the Army Network.

However, Ledeczi said the project at Vanderbilt has run out of funding. The team is looking for a grant or Pentagon funding to continue their work. He said he could see uses for both military and police units.

  • Moondawg

    The Red Chinese, and others, can just as well use this technology against our own snipers.

  • The Chinese? Great! they’re gonna be making the phones! And now that the information is out there, the bad guys will do whatever they can to OBTAIN said hardware…..which will be relatively easy if the Army ( ours? ) issues them to everyone. Does anyone else have a few issues with the need for security regarding these systems? My other thought is this: FROM THE ARTICLE: “Army leaders have said they eventually want to outfit all soldiers with smartphones in garrison and deployed.” OK…my concerns remain.

  • Stormcharger

    This idea has been in the works and in use in one form or another for years now. The city of Palo Alto in California comes to mind where microphones were placed all over the city to locate the unusually high number of gunshots that happen there.

    This is the first time that such a technology is able to be put into the hands of an individual soldier or squad with relative ease. The tech is already out there, it’s important that we use it and perfect it operationally first. The question of it being useful to a potential enemy is obvious. However, since the US is rarely in the role of insurgent, it’s far more useful to our troops than theirs.

    And yes, I agree completely, the smartphones security issues need to be nailed down before even thinking of issuing them to troops. I can track mine even with it off, no doubt a savvy enemy with time on his hands can tweet the location of every soldier in country when not placing IED’s…

  • SharpShooter

    There are other detection systems, nothing new

    ShotSpotter solutions deliver instant, accurate tactical awareness:

    >Immediate alerts, even when no one calls 911

    >Precise location anywhere within coverage area including latitude/longitude and street address

    >Exact time and number of rounds fired

    >Shooter position, speed and direction of travel (if moving)

    ShotSpotter incident data can help yield critical forensic data after detailed analysis, including:

    >Sequence of rounds fired with time and position data

    >Type or types of weapons used

    >Number of weapons or shooters

    >Weapon cyclic rates

  • sodeko oluwamuyiwa

    hw can i get the application downloaded to my phone?

  • Joseph Cruz

    There is software available which utilizes 3D rendoring of ariel photos (such as google earth maps) and algorithms to locate the best sniper positions for a given target. Working backwards, this could be used as a quick method to narrow down the possibilities when the systems written of in the story are unavailable or not practical.

  • Josh

    There’s and app for that…


    My bet is the WH has already leaked this info and the chicoms and terrorist are already using the app….

  • stefan s

    I fear this more from “Dear Leaders DH-SS!”