Walt Cook, The Union Democrat

SmartSight - a weapons-aiming system being developed in the Columbia area - is designed both to take and save lives.

The system allows shooters to reach around corners or over obstacles to take out enemy combatants, or, as the SmartSight's inventor Matthew Hagerty calls them, "the bad guys."

Hagerty is chief executive officer of LandTec Inc., which is developing

the cutting-edge aiming system. A federal government

research-and-development contract is funding the project.

Basically, SmartSight users can stay out of harm's way while

shooting with accuracy. The system also reduces the chances that

innocents will get killed in the crossfire.

The SmartSight consists of a camera mounted to a gun barrel that

sends a wireless signal to a small computer on the shooter's body,

which is connected to a "heads-up" display on a pair of Oakley glasses.

A red dot centered in the middle of the stamp-sized heads-up screen shows where the bullet is headed.

"It's a game-changing technology," Hagerty said. "We're giving them

the ability to return fire without poking their heads out there."

About half of the deaths of U.S. soldiers involved in firefights occur around corners, according to Hagerty.

A flash suppressor at the tip of the barrel of SmartSight-equipped

rifles reduces recoil, which is useful considering the often-awkward

positions the guns must be fired from, positions that don't allow

recoil to be absorbed by the shooter's shoulder.

The SmartSight is currently being tested using standard .308

military cartridges and 5.56 cartridges, NATO's standard rounds.

Hagerty is a former investment banker and test shooter for Hughes

Aircraft, who shot his first gun at 6 years old. He relocated to the

Mother Lode from Los Angeles after he, his wife and two young children

got an uncomfortably close glimpse of a drive-by shooting in Venice in


Hagerty admitted his idea isn't novel, noting that in World War II

the Nazis developed a gun with a curved barrel that could shoot around

corners. But the curved barrel of the gun - the Krummalauf - broke down

too quickly to make it a practical field weapon.

And unlike the SmartSight, the Nazi gun wasn't about accuracy, it was about indiscriminate killing.

Hagerty's hope is that SmartSight will soon be used by U.S. special

forces personnel. So far, the government has shown plenty of interest

in making that goal become a reality.

Hagerty won an initial federal contract for $100,000 in 1999 to

work on his idea. Since then, he has been approved for millions of

dollars in federal funding to perfect the technology. He has contract

engineers helping him with the SmartSight system throughout the state.

Hagerty did have one brief setback, though, in 2000, when federal

officials asked him to prove his product in order to justify funding.

So Hagerty took his prototype to those who mattered most: Soldiers.

The SmartSight won them over, ensuring funding would continue.

"This equipment is not built in a bubble," said Hagerty. "We have a lot of interaction with the end-user."

Soldier input has helped guide the development of the SmartSight,

in its third iteration in a decade. Hagerty said the system had to be

good enough to convince soldiers already carrying many pounds of gear

to carry yet another item.

In other words, it had to be light, small, rugged, and, most importantly, it had to work.

Since its initial iteration a decade ago, the SmartSight is lighter

- thanks to a single circuit board, as opposed to nine; is wireless;

allows the shooter to see in real time (the first version had camera

lag) and has a display that goes over one eye, rather than both -

allowing soldiers to see the video camera screen and what's in front of

them simultaneously

Also, thanks to suggestions from soldiers, the SmartSight has a

small electronic footprint - making it hard to detect - and has a

gradual, not rapid, zoom.

And, because work is ongoing, Hagerty hopes to make it even better.

Contact Walt Cook at wcook@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4530.