Yesterday, the New York Police Department debuted its latest set of high-tech policing equipment. We New York denizens will soon come face to face with robot dogs, daleks, and something new: A pneumatic gun that can fire a sticky GPS tracker at a moving vehicle.
The launcher is called the Guardian-HX, made by a company called StarChase. It’s meant to create an alternative to the standard police pursuit, allowing cops to remotely track a fleeing vehicle without sending a squad of interceptors to tail it. But, in the hands of a department known for its surveillance abuses, the presence of any new tracking tech is worrying.
The Guardian-HX launcher is based on, of all things, an AR-15 rifle. The Guardian’s lower receiver — the part of the gun that holds the stock, pistol grip, trigger assembly, safety switch, and “magazine” — is interchangeable with any other AR-style rifle. (Amusingly, since the AR’s lower receiver is the part that contains its serial number, these may legally count as AR-15s.) Those accessories, too, are cross-compatible, save for two: The internal trigger assembly and magazine.
That’s because, in the Guardian, the trigger isn’t a trigger, and the magazine isn’t a magazine. The trigger itself is more of a button, an electronic system that activates the release of pressurized gas to propel the GPS projectile. The magazine is actually a battery.
All that tech makes for a single-shot launcher capable of firing one adhesive-tipped GPS tracker before needing its barrel reloaded. That projectile travels at a claimed 37 miles per hour, and has a straight-forward range of 35 feet — though the company claims that, with an arc, it can theoretically reach 60 feet.
Once the GPS tag is adhered to a vehicle, it pings StarChase with its location every two to five seconds. StarChase calls the Guardian a “less-lethal” tool — making one wonder what would be lethal to a motor vehicle, since the Guardian isn’t designed to be used on people.