On Nov. 18 and 19 2015, the Denver Field Division and the Army’s research and development branch conducted the latest in a series of tests to refine the next generation of gunfiredetection technology.
Called FireFly, the wireless acoustic and electro optical system has the capability to detect, analyze and triangulate the quantity and source of gunfire within its area of coverage. It functions similarly to a gunshot-detection technology called ShotSpotter deployed by the Denver Police Department in parts of the city, except for one major attribute.
“The benefit of FireFly is it is mobile and rapidly deployable. Even if the violence moves around the city, outside ShotSpotter’s current coverage, we can pick up and move these mobile sensors and follow the violence,” said Group Supervisor Tim Kelly, who oversees Denver’s arson and explosives group. “It could complement ShotSpotter as part of the Crime Gun Intelligence Center’s activities.”
“This type of mobile technology is the next step in intelligenceled crime fighting,” added Denver Field Division Special Agent in Charge Ken Croke. “Along with permanent gunfire detection systems, it can boost law enforcement’s capability to find and arrest criminals committing violence acts, saving lives and preventing criminals from committing future crimes. The criminals can’t move shop.
This technology will follow them.”
FireFly is a government-owned technology developed by the Army’s Research Laboratory and the Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center.
It was originally deployed as a tripod-mounted system at command outposts to detect hostile small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. More recently, the technology has been adapted for deployment on an aerostat—a tethered blimp-like object—that hovers over forward operating bases as a force protection measure. Although it can record individual gunshots, its value is in detecting mortars and rocket-propelled grenades as part of a much larger, more robust detection system called Serenity (not a coincidence for you science fiction fans).
Even though Fire-Fly is designed to function in urban settings, it has never been tested in one, which is where ATF comes in.
“We’re here to calibrate the equipment in different weather and conditions,” said Rudy Nikolao, a contractor for the Army Research Laboratory. “We have sensors in the area that pick up gun shots and are supposed to triangulate where the shooting is taking place.”
As part of the calibration, Special Agents Ben Byrd and Ryan McKone shot a range of firearms over two days, including handguns, rifles and shotguns, at a trap shooting range in northern Colorado. This is the second such test since the sensors were installed in the area this past summer to aid in capturing a suspect responsible for a series of random shootings along Colorado’s Interstate-25 in spring and summer 2015. The shootings took the lives of two people and injured others. There have been no more shootings since then, but the suspect is believed to be still at large.
“We were here in June to install the sensors and did some tests then,” said David Anderson, president of Invariant Corporation. “It was hot then, above 90 degrees, so we know the propagation of acoustics in warm weather. Now, we want to see acoustics in cold weather.” Invariant and Hyperion Technology Group were contracted by the Army to develop the FireFly technology. As the agents fired, the sensors picked up the gunshots and sent that information to secure servers to run through several algorithms to determine location and probable source. Then, like ShotSpotter, FireFly emailed alerts of the incident details and a map pinpointing the estimated source in less than a minute. Chad Williams, co-founder of Hyperion, collected real-time acoustic data during the test that will be used to support the calibration.
The technology was astonishingly accurate, sometimes coming within several feet of the actual firing location, although windy weather, Nov. 18, did wreak havoc with some of the calculations, particularly with “softer” gunfire like from a .22 caliber rifle.
While the Army is seeking to develop the next generation of sensors that would be smaller, more inconspicuous and designed for urban environments, the ATF sees potential applications to support CGICs around the country.
ATF’s own research and development branch at National Center for Explosives Training and Research is supporting the testing by providing access to ATF explosives ranges, research and development division personnel and technical equipment.
“ATF and the NCETR are pleased to participate in and support testing of the FireFly system, one that is of interest to both ATF’s public safety and law enforcement missions and the military’s counter-IED mission,” said NCETR Special Agent in Charge Don Robinson. “We look forward to working together with our partners in this important work.”
“This is a great opportunity for ATF to be on the ground floor in developing the next generation of technology that can be a vital part of ATF CGICs,” added Special Agent Jeff Russell, who is the program manager of ATF’s new National Integrated Ballistic Information Network Branch.
David Anderson and Chad Williams, both contractors with the Army, evaluate how well the Firefly sensors are tracking the shots fired by SAs Byrd and McKone. The data will help calibrate future iterations of the technology to install in urban areas and identify a shooter’s location with astonishing accuracy.