Gun Review: TrackingPoint Precision Guided Firearms XS2

To hit a target at 1,000 yards a lot of calculations need to be made, and good fundamentals of shooting need to be observed. Things have been getting progressively easier, but the guys behind TrackingPoint wanted something better. They wanted a gun that did all that math for you, gave you an aiming point, and triggered the gun FOR YOU automatically when you were exactly on target. They wanted to make long range shooting idiot proof. And that’s exactly what they built, and showed off to me and Tyler this past weekend.

Long range shooting has traditionally been the domain of the seasoned veteran. Hitting anything past 250 yards requires a good understanding of the fundamentals of shooting, combined with the knowledge of how their bullets react in flight and the ability to predict where they will hit at a given distance.

The math part has been getting easier over time, with laser rangefinders and ballistic calculators coming onto the market that take most of the math out of the equation, but even then the various drag models and ballistics programs don’t always match up exactly with what your specific loads are doing in your specific gun.

That’s where TrackingPoint started. They took a single rifle and a single precision load of ammunition manufactured by Barnes Bullets and studied the ever-loving crap out of it. They tested it in hot weather, cold weather, different altitudes and different wind conditions and created the most comprehensive database they possibly could for how their load and their rifle behaves. They even tested the lifecycle of the gun, seeing how the gun changed in terms of the ballistic profile between round #1 and round #2,000.

With the detailed understanding of the firearm and ammunition under their belt, they could accurately predict the bullet’s path. But the one part of the equation that had yet to be tackled, and the biggest reason why people miss their target, is the human factor. Is that a 1.5 MiL hold or a 1.6 MiL hold you have? Did you squeeze the trigger too hard and pull a shot? Was your breathing too heavy and cause you to miss? All of these factors could still lead a round off target.

So they gave the computer control of the trigger instead.

The system, in its first generation setup, will come as an integrated rifle and scope. The scope contains all of the computational power, with some minor additions to the stock and trigger system to get everything to work properly.

When you start to line up your shot, you simply “tag” your intended target with the scope. There’s a small red button molded into the stock right where your trigger finger rests that tells the computer that whatever the corsshairs are on is the intended point of impact.

The second you release the button, a number of things happen automatically. First, the scope takes a reading of the temperature, barometric pressure, distance to the target, and the cant of the scope, and figures out a solution for that intended target. It then adjusts the scope so that the crosshairs are precisely calibrated to hit the target, and waits for the human to mash the trigger. All you’re responsible for is entering in the wind speed and direction.

If you don’t release the button immediately, though, you get another nifty feature of the scope. The scope will stabilize the image and allow you to drag that aiming dot exactly to where you want it, so even if you didn’t get the precise position when you first hit the button you can drag the dot to the right spot.

The thing is, though, once the target has been tagged the trigger is controlled by the computer. The only time it will release the firing pin is when the crosshairs are exactly on the target. So once you’ve made the decision to fire, all you have to do is squeeze the trigger and wave the crosshairs over the tag, and when the conditions are exactly right the computer will release the firing pin and send the round downrange.

What’s really awesome (from a nerdy perspective) is that the computer uses a predictive model to figure out when to release the firing pin. It calculates the path that the gun is swinging and predicts when the gun will be exactly in place to put the round on target, using that to determine when to fire. Due to the predictive nature, it means that the gun will actually fire faster if you’re swinging quickly from left to right than trying to get the dot to line up exactly with the crosshairs.

Also awesome is that the thing streams live video of the scope’s view to compatible Apple devices. For the video we were watching everyone’s shot on an iPad, but there’s no reason this couldn’t be an iPad mini or an iPhone. A spotting scope is still a must for watching the impact of the rounds, but for a spotter it gives them something that they’ve never had before — the ability to double check the target that the shooter has in their sights. It may not be essential on a flat range, but as the TrackingPoint guy said it makes hunting a heck of a lot better when your guide can walk you onto the target and even let you know if the animal you’re about to take is the one they had in mind.

What’s nice about the app is that it has some auto-recording capabilities built-in. It automatically takes a picture when the shot goes off so you can see exactly where your gun was aimed, and records video from the moment you tag your target to 10 seconds after the shot. For those who like posting videos of how awesome they are on YouTube (sup?) its a great feature.

TrackingPoint has taken something that once required great skill and understanding of ballistics and turned it into a video game that’s accessible to anyone at any level of shooting ability. In fact, if you’ve ever played Sniper Elite V2 the mechanics will feel extremely similar. Its something that anyone under 30 will immediately understand and be able to use almost instantly.

The best illustration is a video the incoming CEO has of his 10 year old daughter singing a steel plate at 1,006 yards using the system. She’s probably the youngest person to “qualify” at the range (hitting 5 rounds in a row at each steel plate — 250, 500, 750 and 1,000).

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The real question, though, is how well the system works. To answer that question we met up with some of the guys from TP at the Best in the West range just outside Austin, TX and gave it a spin.

For both myself and Tyler, it took some time to get used to the controls. But for a generation that has grown up with video games and touch screens, it wasn’t anything particularly difficult. With about five minutes of instruction we were using the system like pros.

The tagging system works pretty well, for the most part. We ran into some situations where we tagged a target and the computer moved the dot to a different location, but re-tagging the target usually fixed that problem. With the way the image moves once the target is identified it seems like its better to be zoomed a little bit out (so the target doesn’t move off screen) than zoomed all the way in, but if you lose the target a helpful arrow points you to the way back.

As for the rest of the claims, we can 100% say that they’re verified. The gun works exactly as advertised. The tagging system has some bugs to be worked out, but it hits the tag first round every time.

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For those interested in buying their very own, they’re already taking pre-orders (and dozens have already been reserved) with the base system running about $15,000 (FYI, LEOs skip to the front of the line). For that, you not only get a precision tuned Surgeon rifle and bad-ass scope, but you get a Pelican case, 200 rounds of ammunition, and an iPad mini for your spotter and to watch your videos. There are other models coming online soon, including a lighter version for hunting that has already been field tested on some delicious animals.

These guys aren’t just resting on their laurels, though. They’ve already got a number of improvements coming down the line.

The first thing that they’re working on is wind and moving targets for the existing rifle setup. Getting the ballistics right for the drop is good, but having something that is completely idiot proof for even wind calls is high on their list. As for moving targets, they have had some incredible interest from the military and law enforcement for these systems but they need to be able to hit moving targets before those customers are willing to drop the coin on some of these rifles.

One of the things that might come before then, though, is an expanded range of projectiles capable of being used in the guns. At the moment the only thing that these rifles can reliably use are the Barnes manufactured rounds that are specifically designed for the guns. Barnes loads these rounds to within 10 feet per second, an incredible feat especially considering that 18 fps difference is the best I could find with my ammo testing. They’re working with Barnes to try and get an expanded line of projectiles, to include hunting loads as well as the MatchKing projectiles that they’re using at the moment. As you can imagine that involves a tremendous amount of time and effort, so to speed things up they’re building their very own indoor 500 yard range in Austin. As far as we can tell, it will be the longest indoor range in the United States. With it they’ll be able to more accurately control all of the environmental variables and get their ballistic data much quicker.

Also coming soon is an improvement to the housing of the scope. At the moment its not exactly what anyone would call “waterproof,” which limits its outdoor use. But they’re working on it, and until then if you can afford one of these you can probably pay someone to hold an umbrella over you while you hunt.

A little further down the line is a scope for the AR-15 platform. They don’t just want the ability to hit one target, they want to be able to leverage the AR-15 platform’s semi-auto abilities and be able to tag multiple targets, then have the gun fire as they swing through each one. More of a law enforcement or military application, but they’re also starting to think about the competition shooting and 3-gun markets as well.

As for silencers, well, that’s on the back burner.

Their eventual goal is to make a standalone scope that works on a set of rifles. They’ve been working with rifle manufacturers trying to find a suitable platform, but apparently not very many rifle makers can keep the consistency they need for their project to work. Since even slight differences between firearms will lead to their predictive model being off target they’re hesitant to start down that path until a suitable manufacturer has been found. Given that this company is already buddy-buddy with the Freedom Group ring of companies I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a TrackingPoint compatible flavor of Remington 700 sometime in the near future.

The best thing is that they’re constantly improving the software. Every rifle they ship benefits from all of the rifles before it, and once new features come online they plan to release updates to all of the existing scopes. This isn’t just something that seems to be designed to screw over early adopters, but instead a system that is engineered from day one to be able to update and change as the software is improved.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this system becomes the gold standard going forward. With computers taking most of the workload off the human, we’re able to do more of what we’re good at — specifically finding the targets in the first place and deciding when to fire. But until the price drops significantly I think I’ll stick to my mil dot reticle and trusty Ti-83+.

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

24 Responses to Gun Review: TrackingPoint Precision Guided Firearms XS2

  1. avatarAharon says:

    sorry, off topic a bit here:

    MSNBC posted the latest update:

    “Although he was carrying three weapons, he used only one of them in all of the school killings — a Bushmaster .223-caliber assault-style rifle similar to the one used by the snipers who terrorized the Washington, D.C., area in 2002. It was purchased legally, they said. He used one of the handguns to kill himself.”

    “Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance confirmed that a second adult was injured and survived, saying both were wounded in the “lower extremities.” Initial reports last week suggested that only one person had been injured and survived.”

    — It really is incredible that it took so many days to report something such as that two adults were injured (and not just one).

  2. avatarEric says:

    No mention of rifle brand or caliber?

    Pretty cool.

  3. avatarLTC F says:

    Make long range shooting “idiot proof”? Nothing is idiot proof.

    This isn’t new tech, the M1 series of tanks has been doing it since the early 1980′s. (I believe it was in some General Dynamics literature that I read something about giving an American tank gunner the ability to hit a moving object the size of a mini van with an object the size of a grapefruit at a range of three miles in the dark.) The impressive thing here is the level of miniaturization, I didn’t think it would be doable. I don’t like the idea of a computer releasing the trigger though. It kind of limits the practical uses for the system (ie. sniping). It would be a bitch if the bad guy stood up with a white flag when the computer decided it had the perfect ballistic solution.

    • avatarAlphaGeek says:

      Good point on release authority, but the designs I’ve seen all rely on a continuous permissive action link to the firing mechanism. You have to be holding the trigger down to permit the shot when a firing solution is achieved.

      To me, this actually seems slightly better than a traditional trigger in shoot/no-shoot situations. With a standard trigger you’re already in motion (squeezing trigger, holding on target) at that theoretical shoot/no-shoot moment, while with this system you’d be holding static on the enabling trigger and it would just take a twitch of the finger to prevent the shot.

  4. avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    Anyone who has shot long range in actual outdoor conditions knows that they’re not going to get the wind doped reliably unless they have multiple sensors over the flight path from about 200 yards to 800 yards.

    IMO, this is another crutch that breeds poor shooting skills and a mis-direction of funds for any serious marksman. For $15K, I could set someone up with the very best long-range glass and a very, very well built rifle, reloading press, dies, a few hundred rounds of Lapua or Norma brass, several hundred of the best VLD pills… and hand them back enough change to throw a really nice dinner for a squad of long range competitors.

    BTW, there’s already another indoor range in Texas used by a small group of benchrest gunsmiths to check their rifles’ accuracy and ammo load development. It’s longer than 500 yards inside, but use is by invitation only.

    • avatarFelix says:

      EVERY technological advance is a crutch. The first plow pulled by an animal was just that much lostdirect contact with the feel of the earth being plowed, its texture, hardness, and whatever else was directly transmitted to hands without the animal’s brute force disguising the feel.

      The price is irrelvant. The second computer I ever worked on was a $10M supercomputer which is outperformed 1000 times by the cheapest dumb phone nowadays.

      And I’m not on your lawn :-)

      • avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        OK, Sonny. I’ll let it slide. This time. ;-)

        Let’s review what it takes to become a good marksman:

        1. A good rifle.
        2. A good sight. This can qualify as a good sight, but you can get awesome glass for a rifle, with mounts and the reticle of your choice that helps you do rangefinding and windage correction with that grey mush between your ears, for less than one-third of this price.
        3. Practice. And more practice. Even with this gadget. When you absolutely need to make the shot count, that’s not the time to be trying to figure out how this type of “smarter than you” scope works. LTC and I are in complete agreement that the dwell time between the tag and the shot is just… unacceptable.

        And with a .338 LM, practice costs serious bucks. Like $3.50+/round unless you’re reloading.

        This is where the $15K price tag just gets ridiculous.

        Some here at TTAG have been somewhat churlish when I express a preference for “Nice Guns[tm]” that cost from $5K up to… the sky. And I understand that not everyone really likes fine, fine guns or their price tag that goes with them.

        But for a rifle as purpose-built as this, this PhD-packin’ sight costs as much as a absolutely top-of-the-line rifle, scope, mounts, tactical stock, and more ammo than you can carry. A guy could become as good as he wants to be for the pricetag of this sight alone.

        The cost of this sight on top of a top-grade rifle? Well, no one who is ogling this bauble should gripe when I get all tingly about a really nice Dickson or Parker shotgun from now on. ;-)

        • avatar16V says:

          Methinks perhaps you are analyzing with the wrong market in mind. I think you’re spot-on when looking at the consumer side. But…

          Sure there will be a few ‘bleeding edge’ early adopter types who throw down the $15K for this neato system/toy. For them it will be as inconsequential a purchase as an entry-level audiophile component, or about the same as an interesting transferable class IV. This is hardly a Holland & Holland level purchase.

          The real market is those who care not one whit about cost, da gubbermint. In a world where even local PDs have been given the play money to buy $100K+ armored vehicles that they will never need, this will move a few hundred units. Or at least gin up the press buzz necessary to garner some more funding. Preferably from Uncle Sugar.

          There’s nothing mildly novel about the tech, just the fact that someone decided to finally stick a ballistic computer on a rifle in charge of the trigger with some predictive algos and sensors in-between.

          Pretty much a Barrett BORS system that’s been evolved.

          Miniaturization and streamlining of this rig will be necessary to make it something that will eventually be commercially viable. And lots more front-end cash.

          BTW- Wind? Profiling with LIDAR has been an off-the-shelf piece for years. Shrinking it down to scope-size and focusing it on a few tens of thousands of cubic feet would just require money and time.

  5. avatarLolinski says:

    They should team up wIth Savage if they want something accurate while affordable. But they dont make semi-auto centerfire rifles.

  6. avatarLogan P says:

    So, are we going to see ‘smart guns’ next, á la Aliens or Call Of Duty?

    • avatarAlphaGeek says:

      Give it 10 years or so, and the answer will be yes. We’ll have CQB, mid-range and long-range guns that can not only differentiate targets from cover and background clutter, but tell friend from foe and even aid in lethal or non-lethal shot placement.

      Imagine a dynamic entry team with smart AR15s that can be set to optimize for either disabling or lethal shot placement. There aren’t many bad guys who could fight on with a shattered arm and both hip joints shot out, vest or no vest.

  7. avatarCasey T says:

    Am I the only person who thinks this is too much. I would personally shoot my rifle myself by calculating the adjustments and pulling the trigger. The concept is neat, but I’d rather shoot without a computer doing it for me.

    • avatarnatermer says:

      Depends on what your goals are.

      If they are to enjoy shooting then that’s one thing. If it’s to get a job done, that’s another.

      I can see this pushing the ability for human use of a rifle out to the horizon and maybe a bit beyond. Even with electronic assistance I expect the skill required to use such a beast will be very high.

  8. avatarstngray713 says:

    Seems to me like this would take the fun out of long range shooting. Plus is there a way to cancel a shot once the system has been instructed to fire. Seems like there is a lot that could go wrong. For 15K I could get a great rifle and take some long range shooting class and tons of practice. I’ll take that over technology doing all the fun stuff for me.

  9. avatargordy0215 says:

    I saw the prototype of this a year ago at the same range. Me and a friend of mine were given a walk through of the technology by the inventor. It was pretty awesome then I can only imagine how cool it is now.

  10. avatarmatt says:

    Impressive. It looks like they need a monopod with integrated controls for zoom, target designation, etc. Now if only I had 15k to piss away on a new toy.

    • avatarmatt says:

      I would also like to know how much shielding this has from RFI. I know whenever my Blackberry transmits data, and it within a couple feet of a speaker, i can hear it. I would assume real radios would be even worse.

      Is there anyway to override the system, and fire a shot in case of a electronics failure?

      Too bad their website is down till 1-15-13.

    • avatarmatt says:

      Also I thought the ATF effectively banned electronically controlled actions on semi-autos, since they were so easy to modify for full auto. How is this going to work on a AR pattern rifle?

  11. avatarC says:

    Does all the math for ya?! Where’s the fun in that?!

  12. avatarDrVino says:

    I get it, but isn’t this like playing “Eruption” on Guitar Hero?

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