Less-than-lethal weapons like rubber bullets and bean-bag rounds are a bad compromise, using a projectile that's too slow to kill and too big and heavy for real accuracy. A bullet that can change its velocity based on how far it has to travel would be a good solution, even if it looks weird as hell.
The Pogojet is an experimental new weapon that promises a versatile, accurate less-than-lethal solution. The key is a .50 calibre bullet that changes its speed on how far it has to travel, so that the amount of force delivered to the target remains constant.
With any luck, that will solve one of the big problems with current less-than-lethal systems: a bean-bag round fired at someone too close, or at their head (or both!) can be very much lethal. The Pogojet could easily still be lethal too -- it's fundamentally shooting a .50 calibre bullet at 322km/h -- but the increased accuracy should make it easier to hit the torso. Meanwhile, the variable velocity round should be far less deadly at short range.
In order to do this, the bullet uses a different propulsion system to most firearms. In a regular gun, the bullet's acceleration is provided by burning a propellant, which pushes the bullet down the barrel thanks to expanding gas. In the Pogojet, the initial explosion pushes a piston out of the back of the bullet, propelling it forward. Depending on how far the bullet needs to travel, it can then vent gas from jets on the back of the bullet, or out the side if no extra kick is needed.
Pogojet bullet before and after firing
The end result is a bullet that will deliver the same amount of kinetic energy (read: pain) to a target at up to a hundred meters, far further than existing less-than-lethal systems. The .50 calibre projectile arrives at around 322km/h, delivering a feeling somewhat like a 'bee sting' according to the inventor, Jeffrey Widder, senior research scientist at Battelle Memorial Institute in Ohio.
The Pogojet can be fired from something the size of a small handgun, or mounted on the underside of a rifle to give soldiers a readily available less-than-lethal option. Both versions use a laser rangefinder to calculate the distance to the target, and adjust the bullet's velocity accordingly.
Widder told Popular Mechanics that the next step is building a full-metal version of the Pogojet with the rangefinder incorporated.