Inventions Will Help Studies of Unintended Discharges, Multi-Assailant Assaults, Shooting Accuracy

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Three new inventions have been created to advance research projects at the Force Science Research Center, which ultimately will help trainers and officers to improve street performance and save lives.

Two of these were designed by Dr. Bill Hudson, deputy director of FSRC and chairman of the Computer and Electrical Engineering Dept. at Minnesota State University-Mankato where the Research Center is based. The third invention comes from Ron Avery, founder of the Practical Shooting Academy in Olathe, CO, and a member of FSRC’s Technical Advisory Board.

One of Hudson’s devices is a miniaturized pressure sensor that will aid researchers in learning more about unintended discharges. It’s an assembly of paper-thin, double-layer copper strips that can be glued unobtrusively to the frame or trigger guard of any firearm without interfering with the gun’s unholstering or operation.

Officers participating in role-playing research exercises or in simulations on FSRC’s special IES Milo system will be told to keep their trigger finger pressed against the device until they make a decision to shoot, just as they’re expected to keep their finger outside the trigger guard in real-life confrontations.

So long as pressure is maintained on the sensor, an electrical connection keeps tiny LED lights glued under the gun frame illuminated. But when the finger is moved off the device, the electrical connection is broken and the lights go off.

“Previous experiments in Germany have determined that officers often move their finger onto the trigger before they’ve actually decided to shoot, thus setting the scene for an unintended discharge,” explains Dr. Bill Lewinski, FSRC’s executive director. “Many times they’re not aware they’re doing this and may even vehemently deny it.” [See Force Science News Transmission #3, “Can You Really Prevent Unintentional Discharges?”]

The sensor used in Germany was a bulky, awkward mechanism attached to a pseudo gun that may have detracted from the experiments, Lewinski says. “With Bill Hudson’s much more sophisticated sensor, we’ll be able to tell precisely what’s happening with the trigger finger at all times, through videotaping or personal observation, while the test subjects operate their duty weapons in their normal fashion.

“This may eventually help us determine why fingers stray inside the trigger guard and to identify what we can do with training to condition officers to prevent this.”

A patent is pending on Hudson’s sensor. Based on its anticipated functionality in research experiments, Lewinski hopes reproductions can be made available in the future to firearms trainers who see unintended discharges as a problem and want to work with officers to minimize that risk.

Hudson’s second invention is a new arrangement of light-stimulus boards that will allow more advanced research into distractions that can be life-threatening to an officer in a deadly force encounter.

In some of the studies Lewinski has conducted in the past to measure reaction time, officers have been told to concentrate on a board of lights and to react in specific ways when a certain pattern of lights appears. “Because they fixated on only a single board, there may have been unrealistically fast response times in some situations,” Hudson speculates.

His new apparatus incorporates 4 boards, which can be placed at different distances and angles to the test subjects. These boards involve wireless connections and significantly upgraded computer technology, but most important they will require scanning and head-turning by an officer to detect the light pattern that will signal him or her to react.

In effect, this will simulate distractions that an officer may be forced to deal with during a real-life armed confrontation, such as looking around for cover or reacting to multiple assailants.

“We don’t really know how difficult it is cognitively or how much time it takes to track and react to multiple stimuli,” Lewinski told Force Science News. “With multiple sensor boards we can begin to measure distraction time to thousandths of a second and research this phenomenon more deeply.

“Let’s say that for you to glance to the right or left 90 degrees and come back to reestablish your original point of concentration takes a full second. That may seem like a mouse turd of time. But in one second, a suspect could fire 4 rounds at you! In a gunfight, that is profound.

“We need to understand distractions much better than we do, and the first step is to measure them accurately. Bill Hudson’s new system will be vital to doing that.”

Avery’s contribution relates to an extensive study on hit probability in which he is participating under the Center’s auspices.

He has designed a unique human silhouette target in which score zones are accurately aligned with the body’s various anatomical features and weighted according to their desirability as hit locations.

“The target is based on ‘centerline theory’ rather than center-mass theory,” Avery explains. That is, the highest scoring areas incorporate vital zones of the head and neck and a cylinder-like zone that contains the spinal cord from neck to abdomen and major blood vessels above and below the heart.

Overlaying the entire target is a subdued grid that permits each square inch to be assigned a number for data collection purposes. This, in turn, allows for precise, accurate computer analysis of exactly where shots impact and their probable effectiveness.

Avery developed the copyrighted target in consultation with 2 medical experts who also are FSRC Technical Advisory Board members, Dr. Sudhir Kushwaha, a professor of cardiology at the Mayo Clinic, and Dr. Bob Gazzola, a sports physician.

Using this type of target initially and potentially graduating eventually to live role-playing scenarios with simunitions, FSRC researchers intend to measure the likely accuracy of inexperienced and experienced shooters, firing in ways and from distances commonly associated with attacks on LE officers.

Lewinski estimates that the full study will require at least 2 years to complete and involve thousands of test subjects. By then, he hopes to be able to conclude how accurately and devastatingly would-be cop killers can shoot from various distances and what reactions from officers–DT control measures, movement, standing and drawing, etc.–are most likely to be effective in protecting against and neutralizing the threat.

“Then,” he says, “we need to determine how best to train officers to make the right decisions in the midst of life-or-death stress.”

The experiments are expected to begin in May in Wisconsin and Wyoming.

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