One of the main problems officers have when they use force to gain control of someone is reactionary gap. Most of the use of force options officers have at their disposal require them to get within "grabbing" distance of their suspect, and that often leads to a wrestling match at best, and an injured officer or suspect is a very real possibility.
Even aerosol sprays and electronic control devices (ECDs) have limited range, meaning that officers have to move into edged weapon range, and often closer. Science has sought a non-lethal answer to this problem for a long time, and finally a solution is on the horizon.
TASER International has announced their eXtended Range Electronic Projectile(tm), to be known by the acronym XREP(tm). The XREP is a self contained package fired from a standard 12 gauge shotgun. It delivers the same incapacitation effect as an X26 TASER(tm). Range is about 100 feet, but the engineers are working on pushing that out even further.
How does it work?
As you would expect, there were several problems faced by the designers of the XREP. First, it needed to be wireless. That meant that it had to be self contained, power source and all. The tiny battery is fully integrated into the electronics of the XREP, and is capable of delivering a 20 second cycle.
Another issue was how to make the projectile deliver the neuro-muscular incapacitation required to control a suspect. The engineers accomplished this by creating a microprocessor-controlled optimal electrode selection technology. The engine of the XREP repeatedly checks for the best incapacitation circuit--20 times each second--and selects the most optimal path for delivery of its charge.
Of course, when the projectile strikes, there is a possibility that the suspect might try to grab it to remove it from his body. If he does that, reflex engagement electrodes activate, and a circuit is created through his body and out through his arm and hand. Because of the increased spread, significant incapacitation is possible. The bad guy in effect creates his own incapacitation.
The 100-foot range also created an issue of stability for the flight of the projectile. When the XREP is fired, a rip-cord that is tethered between the shell and the projectile activates the payload. The XREP projectile is "live" when it exits the barrel, which it does at about 300 feet per second. When it leaves the barrel, three torsion spring fins deploy, which create a stabilizing spin, similar to the ballistic spin imparted to a bullet when it leaves a rifled barrel. This greatly aids the accuracy of the projectile.
When the projectile hits the target, the nose electrodes engage the suspect, and the impact breaks a series of fracture pins, which allows the main chassis of the XREP to fall away from the nose on a Kevlar(tm) reinforced tether. As the chassis drops away, six electrodes--called "cholla" electrodes, in honor of the cactus--deploy and engage the subject's clothing. This creates the spread necessary for neuro-muscular incapacitation.
This is where the electrode selection technology comes into play. NMI may be created via the nose and cholla electrodes, or the suspect may try to pull the XREP off, or try grabbing the Kevlar tether. In any of these cases, the XREP senses the best electrodes to use to deliver the NMI effect.
In the event that the only circuit available is between the nose electrodes, the XREP sends its charge across those, creating pain and a distraction. Most suspects are likely to grab at the projectile if this happens, and that will create the opportunity for the other electrodes to engage, and should lead to NMI.
I had a chance to examine the XREP at the recent TASER International Conference, and it's a very impressive piece of technology. It's being rolled out for field testing this fall, and plans are for full product release during mid-2008.
Right now the company is estimating that the cost will be about $100 per round. That's obviously a little steep for routine patrol use, but in the right circumstances, the XREP can be a valuable addition to a tactical team's arsenal.
Stay safe, and wear your vest! (and Buckle Up!)