ZeroMark’s Innovative Fire Control System Enhances Soldier’s Accuracy Against Drones

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Modern warfare now heavily relies on numerous ultra-cheap, ultra-fast drones that undertake robotic “suicide” missions to deliver explosives to enemy areas. While private firms have developed technologies to counter these unmanned aerial systems, such solutions often fall short, leaving soldiers to attempt to hit these targets with the naked eye.

ZeroMark wants to provide these soldiers with something more effective: a system that can be attached to almost any infantry rifle in approximately 30 seconds, significantly boosting the shooter’s chances of taking down these drones.

ZeroMark’s product, which they refer to as a “fire control system,” comprises two main components: a small computer equipped with sensors like lidar and electro-optical, and a motorized buttstock. Joel Anderson, ZeroMark’s CEO, mentioned in a recent interview that the system simplifies hitting a small drone at 200 yards to the extent of making it feel like hitting a 60-foot-diameter circle—something almost anyone can manage.

The setup is sophisticated: It employs machine vision to predict the drone’s movements and performs ballistic calculations to refine shots by a few degrees, making sure they hit the target.

“[The mechanized buttstock] doesn’t move the soldier’s arm; it creates a virtual pivot between the shoulder pad and handheld positions that adjusts the bore axis (where the gun is pointed),” Anderson explained. “The control systems are designed to offset all human factors (proprioception, noise, movement, torque, etc.) as well as the drone’s movement. So, if you aim in the general direction of the drone, the system takes care of the rest.”

Anderson, who joined the U.S. Navy right after high school and later became MongoDB’s first CISO and CIO, saw an opportunity to enhance the capabilities of dismounted soldiers after driving his Full Self-Driving-enabled Tesla to a shooting range and realizing there was no similar automation for marksmanship.

“It was crazy to me that I’ve never seen as much technology in a simple consumer car as I ever saw with the Navy or the DOD, particularly for dismounted soldiers,” he said. “I saw a significant opportunity for technology to give soldiers an edge that didn’t exist.”

He developed a prototype of the fire control system and presented it to Katherine Boyle and David Ulevitch, partners at Andreessen Horowitz’s American Dynamism fund. They wanted to see more, leading Anderson to officially establish ZeroMark in September 2022.

ZeroMark’s technology is more than a little alarming; it seems like something out of “Iron Man,” but in reality, there are genuine concerns about these systems falling into the wrong hands. The startup focuses on countering offensive drones, but the technology could potentially be adapted to accurately target anything — even people.

Anderson admitted that the concept of a “gun that never misses” is controversial, and the company decided not to chase sales to domestic police forces because, in his words, “I don’t think the world is ready for that, nor am I for that matter. I don’t want police to have AI weapons.” The company shifted its focus to drones, considering the current asymmetry in warfare.

He added that the company has developed strong licensing, remote activation, and fleet management features to control the use of its systems.

Some devices are already in use, mainly with private security companies safeguarding assets such as large ships, where pirates often use drones to intimidate crews and force boarding. ZeroMark is also negotiating to export the devices to Ukraine and is in discussions with the U.S. Department of Defense; Anderson hopes to proceed with smaller-scale testing and evaluation as a precursor to larger procurement.

The soldier-focused technology has attracted major venture capitalists who are increasingly open to defense tech startups. ZeroMark recently announced closing a $7 million seed funding round led by Ground Up Ventures and a16z. The funds will be used to increase headcount (the team currently has seven members) and for research and development.

Based in New York City, ZeroMark aims to go beyond the auto-aiming system. Anderson envisions the company becoming a key player in soldier systems and force protection, not just another general defense contractor. The software can also be adapted for additional platforms, such as camera systems that determine a drone’s purpose, owner, or whether it carries a payload.

In the long term, ZeroMark’s software could be integrated into head-up displays or auditory interfaces, providing soldiers with real-time information.

“Large systems like aircraft carriers don’t win wars,” Anderson said. “They help us project power, but they don’t capture Saddam Husseins, kill Osama Bin Ladens, rescue hostages, or win wars. People do … and I want them to be as untouchable as an F-22 Raptor in the sky,” he concluded.

Aria Alamalhodaei
Aria Alamalhodaei
Aria Alamalhodaei covers the space and defense industries. Previously, she covered the public utilities and the power grid for California Energy Markets. You can also find her work at MIT’s Undark Magazine, The Verge, and Discover Magazine. She received an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. Aria is based in Austin, Texas.

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