Beretta’s Intelligent Rail System

Intelligent Rail Systems

Last August, we told you about the powered rail system for the AR-15 rifle that would allow accessories to draw power from a single battery back in the buttstock.  I had a chance to talk to Beretta Defense Technologies about the Intelligent Rail System at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) in Tampa, FL.

Intelligent Rail Systems

As was seen at the SHOT Show in January, the specifications of the original concept have changed slightly as Beretta is developing the system for their ARX-series rifles.  Here is some of the latest information.

battery pack – Per the Beretta rep I spoke with, the US Department of Defense (DOD) has been working with Prototype Productions Inc (PPI), Beretta’s partner in this project.  I was told that DOD has strongly insisted the battery power come from AA batteries – not a rechargeable pack or CR123 et, al.  The current ARX prototype has the batteries mounted on the left side of the rifle’s buttstock.

Intelligent Rail Systems

two-way flow – While the battery pack can send juice down the rail to flashlights, lasers and other gizmos, those same accessories can send information back.  A controller is being developed that will coordinate the flow of information between accessories and off-gun items.  For example, a gun mounted range finder could display target distance in a heads-up display in a soldier’s eye pro.  Or, that same information could be relayed to a scope that is designed to automatically adjust the reticle.

Intelligent Rail Systems

accessories – Beretta is working with its sister companies like Steiner to develop a variety of accessories for the system.

civilian sales – Currently, civilian sales are a secondary concern for Beretta.  The project can obviously be adapted to the civilian market, but the entire focus is on military channels.  So, even if Beretta was to ship a 100% reliable system by the end of this year, I would not expect to see a civilian version prior to the 2016 SHOT Show.  Also, the Beretta rep suggested the pricing on the system might be a problem for the civilian market.

note:  The Beretta rep repeatedly referred to the company’s partner as PPI.  However, some Beretta literature refers to T. Worx Ventures.  On the T. Worx Ventures website, it states T. Worx Ventures is a subsidiary of Technology Worx, Inc. and that Technology Worx, Inc. was formerly PPI.  Based on the information on the T. Worx site, it appears that company is continuing to develop a system for the M-4 that would used a rechargeable batter pack.


Richard Johnson

An advocate of gun proliferation zones, Richard is a long time shooter, former cop and internet entrepreneur. Among the many places he calls home is http://www.gunsholstersandgear.com/.


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  • iksnilol

    Good thing it uses AA batteries, easy to find or aquire over the entire world.

  • Peter Larson

    I would worry that it’s too easy to short out those open metal connections, unless they have some way to get around that

    • Conan

      None of the visible metal “connection” are live. This is a push pin technology where only the pins directly under the accessory are live or active. Extensive field testing and lab testing has been completed. This technology was recently adopted by NATO as their standard

  • Kyle

    They really should have gone with CR123’s. A lot more reliable and they have a longer shelf life. In addition, since they’re smaller so extras can very easily be kept on hand.

    • TV-PressPass

      Except that I can’t find CR123s at my local gas station ;) Personally I use CR123s in everything (lights, lasers, nvgs, rangefinder) but I can still understand the value of a good old AA, especially when you’re looking for standardization.

      • Christian Hedegaard-Schou

        “Except that I can’t find CR123s at my local gas station” – People always say that about CR123’s, but you would be amazed at where you can find them. I’ve seen them at most gas stations, liquor stores, and grocery stores. They’re sold as camera batteries.

        • Cynic

          So was film at one point. Now where do you buy it?

          • Christian Hedegaard-Schou

            The difference between CR123’s and film is that CR123’s are actually GAINING in popularity.

          • MattInTheCouv

            i would like a source for the ‘gaining’ claim. i just don’t see it. it’s original purpose was camera equipment, and that market has largely moved away from it, from what i have seen. the ‘tactical’ stuff market (lights, sights, etc) is also moving away from it. i would think it’s popularity has peaked and that they would now be on the downward side. i’m open to be proven wrong, though.

    • 11b

      DOD is already wedded to AAs, plus they’re easy to find worldwide

    • Gallan

      Forget reliability CR123 provide more power to weight ratio. That’s my biggest beef with this powered rail nonsense it just adds further weight away from the body centre of gravity putting extra pressure on the back. If the DOD and NATO weren’t idiots, they would realise that the battery back must be on the soldiers hips and the rifle should be made as light as possible. In other words NO POWERED RAIL ON RIFLE, NO BATTERY PACK ON RIFLE, NO BATTERIES ON ACCESSORIES. This would greatly reduce the weight of the rifle packed with accessories and reduce the strain on the soldiers back.

  • ClintTorres

    So all your powered accessories can go out at once!

    • 1leggeddog

      This is what we call in the IT department a SPFS (Single Point Failure System)

      • JumpIf NotZero

        Probably. It’s possible they have two power and ground busses running via every other pin set. But that doesn’t really protect from what I would consider the most likely failure issues.

    • GUNxSPECTRE

      It’s a great idea but yeah, the price for failure seems disproportionally severe for the up-sides of using the rail.
      But good thing that ACOGs and iron sights are battery-free.

    • Marc

      Not if they have small backup batteries which only drain in case of main power failure.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        No.

        System failure in the case I’d be most concerned about has NOTHING to do with the battery choice. Rather shorts and open links.

        They seem to be showing a two wire system. That means all the positive contact points are bridged and all the ground contact points are bridged. If one accessory or even a piece of metal bridges the the +/data and -/return contacts the entire system shorts.

        Now, it’s POSSIBLE that every other contact is actually on a separate bus. That is, there are two powers, and two grounds. Each accessory would be required to span those two busses. This COULD add the redundancy they need imo. But that still does not prevent the bus from going down due to a bad (very bad) accessory, it just minimizes the risk.

        LIKEWISE… They could be showing a 4, 6 or 8 pin system, where pin 1 is power, 2 is ground, 3-4-6-8 are data or redundancy power… Each accessory would have to span n slots + 1, that is, if this is a 6 pin system as shown, each accessory would have to be at least 7 slots long, and have to be able to dynamically re-pin itself… This more complex to machine and wire on each accessory end and extremely unlikely, and ultimately offers far less compatibility to future options because of the size of the rail among other things.

        Basically, this is a dumb idea as shown. In no way am I seeing the future here. I’m seeing a sort-of attempt with what’s either an extremely old way of doing things, or very very modern, there are issues with both. I pretty much expect the former though.

        tl;dr: Redundancy as shown is very unlikely. There is a good chance of the entire system failing spectacularly.

  • JumpIf NotZero

    How is there an article about a powered rail…. And no good photos of the rail itself!?

    I want to see the contacts, I want to see the number of circuits, I want to see the attachment/contact method. Since that’s going to be the ultimate failure here, contacts on the rail or device itself, somewhere there is likely a spring or pressure applicator (compressed rubber or something). Dirt/Grime, repeated attachment, tolerances, wear, these are the things I want to know. Not a discussion about their arbitrary choice of battery.

    From the tiny photo, I’m seeing only TWO contacts. Supply and Return most likely. So either this is NOT a data sharing rail prototype – OR – they are using a LIN-like network where the power supply is also the data wire.

    However, this type of system means each accessory would require a full microcontroller with it’s own independent clock/crystal running which mean less battery life, far more complexity, think firmware updates on your Aimpoint, it also means they somehow have a either an independent master-less system with ad-hoc attachment (pretty impressive) OR a master-multi-slave system where I suspect instead of dealing with ad-hoc and unknown modules the master system would need updates to “expect” accessories. Then you have software layer issues with two lights being put on and collisions, arbitration issues from an accessory that is failing – knocking the entire buss down so now all your accessories failed, etc. (Buss off condition)

    Along with the factors that zero accessories work like this today, one would have to assume that someone has plans for standardizing network communication between all these modules. LIN is a fine protocol for this considering speed, power, cost, but you’d need a layer of WHAT these modules are saying and to whom, and in an Ad-Hoc system, who is allowed to occupy each “address”? If two modules are taking then broadcasing ambient temperature separately, who defines the messaging for this? Beretta?

    My guess the reason the prototype doesn’t have three or more contacts is this is just power and ground. The last prototype I saw from some company featured here on TFB was using SPI Bus… SPI is three dedicated wires, used in the original Atari and a billion devices since, still used today in nearly everything for direct microcontroller comm. That was a VERY STUPID decision for a ton of reasons, but infinitely less complex than the theory of shared data/power lines I posted above. So one company is talking about 1970s tech, and Beretta is implying with their prototype pretty cutting edge low power masterless LAN networking on a rifle… My guess is Beretta is actually closer to 1970s as well.

    tl;dr… or too long; didn’t understand: I don’t think this is even sort of ready for prime time…. LOL at SHOT16.

    • Conan

      So the largest weapons manufacturer in the United States invested in a 70’s technology? Understand the macro market trend here – consolidation with weapon manufacturers creating modular accessories without the dependence on individual batteries. Obfuscate all you want with tech jargon, the bottom line this technology works and is funded by the US Army and adopted by NATO.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        Lol, “jargon”. That’s a way of saying “I have nothing to add because I don’t understand what we’re talking about”.

        The last time this was brought up on thefirearmblog, it was using SPI BUS, so yea, 60s-70s tech. Serial parallel interface sometimes called SCI (Motorola and others at various points)

        Like I already wrote above… IF they have a Two Wire interface that offers power, return and data, that’s interesting.

        No matter what however, this system offers ZERO redundancy. You bridge two of those contacts and everything goes down. So, yea… This is garbage tech.

        Obfuscation… Lol. It’s nice to know someone is buying whatever they’re pretending to sell.

        • Julio

          JINZ,
          I’m sure I’m not the only reader on her who finds your assessment interesting, or who appreciates an informed opinion over a knee-jerk reaction. So thanks for posting.

          • JumpIf NotZero

            Thanks, I find some people are just willing to believe anything they are shown, and then mind bogglingly get defensive about whatever it is.

            I’m seeing nothing here that screams “FUTURE!” to me. I’m seeing the past that someone is trying to shoehorn it into something it doesn’t belong in. But I could be wrong, there really isn’t enough info to tell just yet.

          • Dan

            Remember you are also seeing a product still in development so in the end your assessment could mean jack. I don’t care if its a huge success or a huge failure as long as it fails long before someones life depends on it. Until then every “experts” opinion doesn’t really mean much until the final product comes out and all specs are revealed

    • Gabe

      So you want complete technical specifications and exploded view images of a prototype? You are also focused on the data portion of the product and the write up clearly says that portion is still in development, The product isn’t ready, the answers to your questions don’t exist yet. Calm down.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        No, what I’m saying is they are FAR out. And this won’t ever work without an organization governing the physical and data layers. It’s a doomed project until then. All Beretta can do is to hope someone buys into the idea and they can get on the board and/or sell patents.

        I merely gave a technical reason why this isn’t going anywhere.

        • Gabe

          Again, you are coupling the data and power portions of this product. From the write up it sounds like they are going to release the powered rail BEFORE they release a version with data capabilities. SO, that being said it is very possible they will have this ready before the end of the year, just without data.

          • JumpIf NotZero

            I’m not confusing anything. I’m an EE who works on very similar systems. Adhoc embedded masterless comms… Not a lot of people on this blog are going to know much about this.

            What you aren’t understanding is you can do power and data on the same line (LIN Bus is likely in your car now and while doesn’t have to work like this, can).

            Look at the photos above. Do you see room for more connectors? Because I don’t. You think they are going to make a line of powered accessories and another line that is incompatible because they add data?

            These are Day0 desicions they would have had to make.

            No matter if what data they are using, there is no redundancy in this system. It’s a failure from everything I’m seeing. Everything in the military market is built with redundancy. Two wire system won’t cut it.

      • Joshua

        PPI felt ready enough in the tech to submit to the FRAK……In which they failed in reliability and repeat ability and were eliminated at the second down select.

        • Sal

          Any evidence for this assertion?

  • http://ikocher.blogspot.com iKocher

    I like this idea. It suffers from the same basic issue all other battery powered devices have, batteries and their longevity but I still like it. Maybe they could make this work with a round counter built into the magazine.

  • Patrick Mingle

    I cant get AA batteries to stay seated properly when they are in my TV remote. I can only imagine how much they are going to bounce around once the gun starts firing

  • Joshua

    PPI has lots of bugs to work out. Their submission to the FRAK failed horribly in the reliability part of the competition and got them disqualified in the second down select.

    • Conan

      Joshua – you should look up the legal definition of libel and slander.

      • Joshua

        Hahaha seriously?

      • Rusty Shackleford

        Someone sure has delicate sensibilities.

    • mtsap

      Joshua, is there any public info on the evaluation you’re referring to? I’m curious as to what went wrong.

  • Michael R. Zupcak

    Now all we need is an Intelligent Keymod System!

  • JumpIf NotZero

    Found more info….

    They are bussing data over the power lines. This is definitely the way to do it without adding a separate data line but I probably would have just added a separate line. They’re going to run into all the same issues shared data over power has, specifically, each device on the rail will have strict wake and sleep routines. I expect the vampiritic draw to be massively higher than current devices alone.

    Basically instead of your light just not having an open connection until you press the switch… Now you’ll have a light housing, that contains the light of course but also a microcontroller that is constantly running it’s own state-machine waking and sleeping, checking for data from the switch module somewhere else on the rail which also has it’s own micro and code running doing the same. When you press the switch, it’s state changes it’s on-change or cyclic broadcast messages, once the light sees this it’ll turn on.

    You now have addressing, micro-controllers on each device, and a non-redundant rail. Data goes out because the physical layer transciever of your tape switch has crashed the bus? No devices will work anymore. All gone. Bridged power and ground contacts? All devices down.

    There is also a questionable issue of addressing and who determines that. TWorks appears to want to be the end-all for distributing this tech, that’ll never work, if they formed an open spec comity I’d think maybe they knew what they were doing. If selected (I’ll bet this specific system won’t be) the mil would come in and standardize I suppose. As is, I think they’re setting themselves up for failure. Each device is hot-swappable, which means on boot/init, the system needs to determine what each device does, is called (address), broadcasts, and how it relates – that is, when you add a switch, the system will likely need a configuration of what it does. They need clear arbitration and handshaking agreements/schema… And they’re asking this of companies who are making “dumb” products without microcontrollers and sort of struggling to make price points even now.

    TL;DR: They want to add MAC addresses, networking, power drain, firmware updates, configurations, they want you to go through THEM ALONE for it, and best of all, any single device can crash all devices with zero redundancy (although you could have buss-off failsafes per accessory, for instance, if something happens to your switch, your light turns on and stays on, whatever the best case condition for each accessory would be if you lost control over them)

    This tech is absolutely doomed as is.

    • Hyok Kim

      Also, that extreme heating generated by sustained firing, would it affect the reliability of the system?

  • Graham 1

    Does the rechargeable batter pack come with maple syrup?

  • John

    I am seeing something maybe others aren’t… I indeed see two contacts per position. Yet I see a third: The rail itself. It _IS_ conductive and I can see how it could be used as an additional electrical path….

    Just a thought….

  • Secundius

    What the cost$$$ An ARM, a LEG, or my First Born.