Beyond Trackingpoint: DARPA’s Computational Weapon Optic

Computational Weapon Optic

Adam Clark Estes from Gizmodo recently posted an exclusive hands-on with DARPA’s version of the smart scope, named the Computational Weapon Optic (CWO). The author is definitely not a gun guy, but you can find it the original article here: What It Feels Like to Shoot With the Military’s Experimental Smart Scope

It seems that DARPA isn’t chasing the “pull the trigger for you” technology like Tracking Point, but is hoping to have a multi-role electro-optic of their own.

Some notes:

  • Works with the TransApps environment
  • Integrated laser rangefinder, NV, and Thermal optics
  • Anti-fratricide system (will alert when the scope is pointed at a designated blufor target)
  • Radio synchronization
  • Applied Ballistics software inside
  • The demoed prototype is about twice as large as the expected production model (there seems to be two prototypes in the article though)
  • No mention of wind compensation yet, but the Applied Ballistics software can pull data from a Kestrel wind meter.

There is a video demonstration of zeroing, coaching, and other network functions in the CWO.

And another photo of what may be the original prototype? Substantially larger with no space for a piggy-backed red dot sight.

Edward O

Edward is a Canadian gun owner and target shooter with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. Crawling over mountains with tactical gear is his idea of fun. He blogs at TV-Presspass and tweets @TV_PressPass.


  • Red Ryder

    re (from the Gizmodo article): “Firing an M4 carbine kind of hurts. It’s an extremely loud and powerful weapon.” Snork!

    • Plumbiphilious

      I’ll give them “extremely loud,” and let them have “powerful,” but how the hell does it hurt?

      • Unbeknownst to the author, DARPA has given him a .50 Beowulf for personal amusement? *shrug*

      • Canadian Vet

        Probably a combination of factors, from improperly holding the rifle to a lack of hearing protection. Even with just cheap earplugs, 5.56 from a 8″ barrel is tolerable and hardly qualifies as “loud”.

        But unprotected ears, unaccustomed to the sound of gunfire? I can see how that could hurt a little.

        • tt_ttf

          he was not allowed to fire without hearing and eye pro

          The photo was whilst he was being run through how to use it – the range was cold

      • TexianPatriot

        Because he is resting his eyeball on the scope.

    • Guy

      To be fair, I did get a bruise once from an M4… but that was after firing over 400 rounds in less than half an hour 😀

    • 360_AD

      Probably shot it limp wristed and had stock squarely on his collarbone like a noob.

    • Nergyl

      Ah yes, the M4 and its infamous recoil. It fires the shoulder-mauling 5.56×45 cartridge, which was primarily developed to give the U.S armed forces one-shot-one-kill capability against elephants and whales.

      Sarcasm aside, I was genuinely impressed by how controllable the M4 was when I fired one on full auto. I’m not a fan of that gun, but I can’t deny how easy it is to keep it on target.

      • avconsumer2

        Interesting. My take on full auto was more “unless suppressing fire, unneeded. CQB maybe an exception” May not have gotten enough trigger time to acclimate though.

        • HSR47

          Full auto has it’s uses.

          Apart from those you mention (like how the MP5SD would make a great home defense gun) is the fact that belt-fed machineguns made human-wave type attacks too expensive.

          While it isn’t exactly politically correct to say it, the fact of the matter is that the appropriate gun to use in self-defense against a mob of people coming to rape/loot/pillage/burn/kill/etc. you is some kind of belt-fed GPMG (air-cooled, quick-change barrel, tripod mountable, ~30 cal).

  • Pete Sheppard

    “There’s nothing about holding an assault rifle that doesn’t feel dangerous or deadly.”
    You’re right; DEFINITELY not a gun guy…

  • Lance

    Last thing we need a computer scope now. Id stick to a ACOG any day over this heavy thing.

    • tt_ttf

      Lance – be assured this will do a lot more than your ACOG will!

      The prototype is the larger unit (kept large for flexibility whilst the integration was happening) – the smaller unit was a mockup of what the size could be once it

      That video is just a small part of what it is/will/could be capable of

      He skipped over some of the demos that were presented

    • BattleshipGrey

      One would definitely have to train a lot with this DARPA unit to be able to use it quickly and efficiently, but it’s a vast improvement to be able to switch between traditional magnification to NV to Thermal. Too bad all those technologies will make it unobtainable in the price point. I find the networking interesting. I know some military snipers train to shoot simultaneously, which makes the syncing cool, but how often does it actually get used in combat, aside from the famous pirate incident?

      • Yallan


        • BattleshipGrey

          Makes sense, how many can link up together?

  • roguetechie

    If the optics industry hasn’t changed radically in the next 5 years it will be because factors unrelated to technical problems have intervened heavily. As it is now someone with about $2 million US dollars could easily develop something capable of blowing the industry’s collective minds and fab up the first 750 units for sale, quite possibly with enough money left to fly in 3 or 4 gun bloggers if they each agreed to pitch $100 for gas and ammo LOL. Honestly I’m extremely surprised at how much optics and other digital enablers to shooting HAVE NOT changed in the past two years. And that if anything the prices of optics seems to be rising….

    Like I said, if the industry hasn’t substantially changed almost to a point of unrecognizable in 5 years, and prices on stuff equivalent to industry benchmarks like aimpoint and trijicon haven’t went off a cliff….. It’ll have EVERYTHING to do with protectionism, “arms control”, and “nonproliferation”.

    Translation: The kleptocrats will be forced to kill maim or intimidate anyone who dares to design better stuff for cheaper than the companies they own stocks in and have at least three people on every shift on the payroll already….

    • avconsumer2

      Indeed. Imagining production sourced to L3… estimating unit cost @… eh, $17k?

      • roguetechie

        Right…. However if you had adafruit, LG, Nokia, or someone useful and that same setup that was 17.5k turns into $399 msrp $349 street price…

    • tt_ttf

      This is not as easy as you think to develop and test – Size Weight Power and oh then met the specs from -40c to +70c, shock, reliability etc etc That $2m number is fantasy – and I can assure you that Tracking point spent much more than that developing their system – and I can assure you the CWO is a lot more capable than the tracking point system is – TP is all about buying their expensive weapons and their expensive ammo rather than being agnostic to the platform.

      The power requirements to handle low latency high resolution video from multiple sources, fuse that if needed and then have that run on batteries will take custom ASIC’s and more to reduce power and cost.

      Good optics (which are expensive to make due to the materials and grinding – will never be cheap) with a mk 1 eyeball is a powerful tool – we now have multi spectrum sensors and good lens but we still don’t quite have the processing power vs battery power for this to run for days and still be light enough to fit on a rifle. TP’s battery life is horrible and it’s got two big batteries and much lower resolution.

      You also can’t do this with cheap sensors, cheap optics and standard interfaces – the image quality hits, frame integration times and latency from buffering and protocol changes would eat you alive.

      CWO was an effort to show what is possible and frankly it’s a lot more about the con ops this enables than just the platform itself.

      • roguetechie

        And if I had to do what tracking point did it would’ve cost way more than two million dollars!

        Also your comment on optics always being expensive made me laugh. Seriously I laughed hard at that part. They’re already plummeting in price.

        And btw, you’re right if I wanted to do it the way you describe it’d be expensive and require lots of really trick custom electronics and etc while still only performing marginally….

        That really doesn’t show anything other than you having poorly problem solved. Luckily for me I have lots of interests across a very wide range of topics, a very cool wife who doesn’t get angry when there’s guns cooking in the oven or motorcycles disassembled in the living room, and finally a very limited ability to spend my way out of a corner when I get stuck on a project. I feel extremely fortunate in that regard.

        • tt_ttf

          good quality optics to let you see long range and have good image quality are NOT cheap – correcting for color, MTF etc requires good materials and precision grinding, coatings etc – You want high spec visibility at long range without chromatic or other distortions, it will be expensive. If it was, then the DoD would not be paying $4k+ for scopes. 5secs behind one of the high end analog scopes and you will quickly see why they do

          As for the systems stuff – human factors require high frame rates and low latency to be a close analog for the human eye in a digital system – unless it is as good as AND offers other advantages, then it’s not going to play out.

          You should go into business since you seem to know better than BAE, DRS, Lockheed or anyone else doing this stuff

          Your reply shows you know very little about optics, system engineering or human factors.

          • roguetechie

            No it implies that I’m aware of the rapidly plummeting cost of putting together a cnc die grinder capable of grinding optics, and using approaches that are very unconventional and or unorthodox. It also means I see the writing on the wall when it comes to the barriers to entry into fields like optics. (Especially digitally augmented optics)

            It also implies an awareness of, and an understanding

  • nobody

    >No mention of wind compensation yet, but the Applied Ballistics software can pull data from a Kestrel wind meter.
    If this thing can’t sync with DARPA’s One Shot XG I will be seriously disappointment. For those who don’t know, the One Shot XG is a gun mounted attachment that measures the wind at regular distance intervals between the shooter and the target by using lasers.

  • LCON

    Okay So Here we go. First How is this different from TP?
    Answer the Tracking point system is built into the Weapon from manufacture. this give the TP a few advantages and detractions vs the CWO.
    The Tracking point system being built into the weapon at manufacture can move a number ot it’s parts into the weapon for example the TP SA 556 has it’s power supply in the Stock and most of it’s it’s controls integrated into the lower receiver it also swaps the Front sight post for a static muzzle reference reflector allowing the weapon to zero to the barrel.

    The CWO as seen here however is intended to be added to the weapon post production. This has the Advantage that if the system is damaged or none operational for what ever reason All the User has to do is return it to the Quartermaster and swap in a new one. Also It can be mounted to other weapons like M110 or M249, but it has to be zeroed, the sight is going to have to carry it’s own battery and the interface has to be either on the sight or a separate unit attached to the weapon through a control module or a Bluetooth tablet. this means that it’s by nature going to be larger and bulkier then the tracking point system.

    one thing that is a major plus is the back up optic. not every shoot needs the full computerized touch. The Synchronization system is also a great idea along with the IFF system.

    Now as to interfacing with Exacto… not likely. As seen thus far this is a Carbine and assault rifle system Thus far there are no indications of EXACTO moving below a .50 caliber round. as to Sniper One Shot XG Again not likely to interface rather I think The One Shot XG would be modified with technologies from the CWO and interface with EXACTO.

    • tt_ttf

      there is no reason it could not also be on a .50cal – Just that M4 was the test platform since they are much more handy than anything else and cheaper to test with per round.

      And with powered rails and other options being considered for the M4 platform, there is no reason not to move to that as those are fielded.

      Remember this was a DARPA program and was as much about the con ops this enables – its not a bid program from PEO-Soldier!

      • LCON

        the Recoil of a BMG round is far larger then that of a 5.56mm round also consider the range a .50 cal is much longer in range then the carbine. Really it just seems highly unlikely for a EXACTO interface.

        Really though this shows the potential of what is there for the Soldier of the next decade.
        But I feel a issued CWO family would be the better option then a all for one.
        One for individual carbines and LMG’s, another for heavier DMR/Snipers and one for Magnum caliber sniper and AMR class weapons.
        If that happens I feel it would be more likely that the End product could be a hybrid between the CWO and the SR556 in a selective fire M4A1 Derivative with a power system, Electronic trigger, Polymer cased conventional ammo. With fused sensor, integrated Zeroing, IFF and the ability to stream targeting from the sight to a shooters helmet mounted display allowing aimed blind fire. Perhaps it would even interface with accessory weapons like follow on models of the M320 and M26 MASS

        • tt_ttf

          50 cal vs 556 is just config (actual some of the larger impulse profiles are nicer believe it or not) but not needed to prove a proto system’s potential.

          program was all way ahead of you on those thoughts – trust me 😉

          • LCON

            we will have to look for or wait for the White paper and see.

          • tt_ttf

            I will try being less subtle then about the trust me comment

            I was there when the Gizmodo reporter had his photo taken and not as one of the VIP’s

            I am not conjecturing