The Sentry Project: You Move, You Die

The first time I ran across one of the Sentry Project’s videos in the Tube of You, I immediately remembered a scene from Star Wars where a little gun turret on the Millenium Falcon shoots up a bunch of Stormtroopers on automatic mode. Much water has passed under the bridge since Han did the Chewie on Jabba, and now some spawn of McGyver who wasn’t even born when the film came out has slapped together a real life version with two paperclips, dental floss and some sharp programming skills.

Now, I enjoy watching some kid getting massacred with paintballs as much as the next guy (“it’s like a little flick”, says spawn to his hapless victim), and the Sentry Project videos have a lot of that. But when the initial amusement wears off, the implications begin sinking in. The Project site is of course rife with implications left carefully unsaid, starting with the domain name: paintballsentry.com, and following with the first paragraph:

This is a fully autonomous sentry gun system. This software is designed to automatically detect, track and anticipate moving targets so that a robotic turret, powered by off-the-shelf hobby servos, can accurately engage them. The turret can be bought or built to aim a paintball gun, second video/still image camera, airsoft gun, water gun, nerf gun, laser, etc., etc.

Water gun? NERF gun? Yeah, right. The paintball setup is great for demo purposes, and for making neat videos, but calling the site paintballsentry doesn’t change the fact that not everyone who is laying out $250 for the system is planning to use it for fun and games.

Watch the video (below!) and imagine it was live ammo instead of paintballs… 3 seconds and it would be over. The following software screenshot at the Sentry site is not all that reassuring either, mostly because it looks like Spawn of McGyver is using the system to target students on a campus in some sort of sniper wet dream scenario.

From the repository window you all look like gull feed to me!

So what is the Sentry good for? Well, it has clear military applications, and I guess a paranoid homeowner may actually think it’s a good idea to set one up on the property. As can be seen in the software screenshot, the system targets all moving objects within the designated area, tracks their speed and calculates where to put the bullet (red circle). The software can distinguish between moving objects such as people, cars and helicopters (??). The user can choose a target and use the fire button to engage it.

Good protection systems are mostly dissuasive. The THREAT of getting shot weighs on ALL intruders, even if not all intruders actually get shot. If the intruder is unaware he is being actively targeted, there is no dissuasion factor short of actually shooting him. IMHO, the system would require a loudspeaker to issue a warning message that can be heard from the target area, informing of the intrusion in private property and requesting immediate withdrawal. The software should also include a warning shot option that aims to the ground a few feet in front of the intruder, in case he thinks it’s a bluff. Often, a warning shot can be as effective as a body shot, and much less troublesome to explain to authorities and karma accountants.

I still can’t decide whether I like the Sentry Project or not. Sure, the videos are cool, and the system is a neat piece of engineering, but in the end it’s a contraption to operate another contraption which is basically used to threaten and kill. However, the same contraption can be used to defend oneself from grievous assault. So I guess the conclusion is that it’s not automated targeting systems that kill people… although, if required to engage, they will have no choice but to target and EXECUTE EVERY LAST MOTHERF*CKIN’ ONE OF YA.

But only if you move.

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