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(Gizmodo)   Have you ever wanted to know how to build your very own railgun? Today's your lucky day   (gizmodo.com) divider line 117
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11722 clicks; posted to Geek » on 14 Sep 2009 at 8:25 AM (4 years ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2009-09-14 08:36:12 AM
I'm taking an elementary physics class, and I asked my professor if by the end of the semester I would have enough knowledge to build a railgun.


He laughed in my face :(
 
2009-09-14 08:36:19 AM
Somehow misread that as "build your very own religion". Disappointing, but railguns are cool too, I guess.
 
2009-09-14 08:38:03 AM
Silentvoice: He laughed in my face :(

It's not hard. In college, I built a few prototype rail-guns operating at low voltages. The hardest part of building a rail-gun is working with high voltage safely.
 
2009-09-14 08:38:05 AM
Looks like he's testing it out in an abandoned row-house. I half-expected to see a dead body in the corner.
 
2009-09-14 08:45:12 AM
Silentvoice: He laughed in my face :(

Right, because you were in the wrong class for that. You want metal shop.
 
2009-09-14 08:48:33 AM
Cue the "old news is so exciting" guy
 
2009-09-14 08:49:45 AM
So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?
 
2009-09-14 08:56:35 AM
INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?

This question is... difficult to answer. They're so very different in concept and purpose that there's no real comparison. It's not really practical or desirable to build a rail-gun on the same scale as a crew-serviced firearm.

A rail-gun uses electricity to propel a projectile. By doing so, one doesn't need to be as concerned about barrel strength (you're not setting off an explosion), or volume (again, no explosion, but a potential sonic boom), and the maximum force you can exert is a function of the strength of your barrel and the amount of electricity you're devoting to the task.

Because of this, they make excellent artillery, and several naval warships carry rail-guns.
 
2009-09-14 09:00:28 AM
t3knomanser: INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?

This question is... difficult to answer. They're so very different in concept and purpose that there's no real comparison. It's not really practical or desirable to build a rail-gun on the same scale as a crew-serviced firearm.

A rail-gun uses electricity to propel a projectile. By doing so, one doesn't need to be as concerned about barrel strength (you're not setting off an explosion), or volume (again, no explosion, but a potential sonic boom), and the maximum force you can exert is a function of the strength of your barrel and the amount of electricity you're devoting to the task.

Because of this, they make excellent artillery, and several naval warships carry rail-guns.


So, basically, one could fire just about any projectile given enough power and barrel strength, gotcha. I guess I just don't see the value of it over another choice. Unless you can fire a larger caliber with more speed and/or taking up less space?

I know eff all about guns, so if I sound ignorant, it's because I am.

Would a similar creation, on a much larger scale be able to launch something like the space shuttle?
 
2009-09-14 09:03:09 AM
t3knomanser: INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?

This question is... difficult to answer. They're so very different in concept and purpose that there's no real comparison. It's not really practical or desirable to build a rail-gun on the same scale as a crew-serviced firearm.

A rail-gun uses electricity to propel a projectile. By doing so, one doesn't need to be as concerned about barrel strength (you're not setting off an explosion),


Incorrect. Because of the intense magnetic fields and heat generated, you still need to have a strong 'barrel' in order to keep the warping of the projectile channel minimal, and to keep the barrel from exploding apart.

or volume (again, no explosion, but a potential sonic boom), and the maximum force you can exert is a function of the strength of your barrel and the amount of electricity you're devoting to the task.

Because of this, they make excellent artillery, and several naval warships carry rail-guns.


I don't know of any that currently mount a rail gun, although there are plans afoot to do so.

/Dad built a coil gun back in the late 1970's.
 
2009-09-14 09:03:57 AM
NoboruWatanabe: Somehow misread that as "build your very own religion". Disappointing, but railguns are cool too, I guess.

Same here.
 
2009-09-14 09:08:02 AM
INeedAName: t3knomanser: INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?

This question is... difficult to answer. They're so very different in concept and purpose that there's no real comparison. It's not really practical or desirable to build a rail-gun on the same scale as a crew-serviced firearm.

A rail-gun uses electricity to propel a projectile. By doing so, one doesn't need to be as concerned about barrel strength (you're not setting off an explosion), or volume (again, no explosion, but a potential sonic boom), and the maximum force you can exert is a function of the strength of your barrel and the amount of electricity you're devoting to the task.

Because of this, they make excellent artillery, and several naval warships carry rail-guns.

So, basically, one could fire just about any projectile given enough power and barrel strength, gotcha. I guess I just don't see the value of it over another choice. Unless you can fire a larger caliber with more speed and/or taking up less space?

I know eff all about guns, so if I sound ignorant, it's because I am.

Would a similar creation, on a much larger scale be able to launch something like the space shuttle?


The major benefit that the military is interested in is that no gunpowder is needed. If a tank or ship gets hit in the magazine, it just farking explodes. If it has no explosives there, that threat is removed.

As for your launch question: It couldn't be used for a manned spacecraft because the acceleration would crush any passengers. NASA did have a project at some point to use an enormous gun to launch small sturdy objects into space, such as supplies for the space station. It was to be done with explosives (hydrogen gas?). Not sure what happened to that project.
 
2009-09-14 09:08:14 AM
INeedAName: I guess I just don't see the value of it over another choice. Unless you can fire a larger caliber with more speed and/or taking up less space?

If you don't have to store a large amount of explosive stuff on your ship, there's less chance of a hit sparking a catastrophic explosion
 
2009-09-14 09:10:32 AM
INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?

If it's what I think it is, there are no moving parts, so there is less chance of mechanical failure/jamming, and less maintenance involved.
 
2009-09-14 09:13:46 AM
We built a couple of simple ones in our class back in school (11 years ago) just a metal rod with a copper coil at the bottom hooked up to a couple of flash capacitors. metal ring goes down the pole and with the flick of the switch we were shooting it a good 10 feet in the air. Not particularly exciting but the prospect of large scale ones was. Course they generate a fierce amount of heat.
 
2009-09-14 09:14:52 AM
hazeleyedwolff: If it's what I think it is, there are no moving parts, so there is less chance of mechanical failure/jamming, and less maintenance involved

As others have said, the high amount of energy plays hell on the rails as the projectile leaves the gun. The rails need to be replace relatively often in high powered guns. Also the charging system is pretty complex as well.
 
2009-09-14 09:16:26 AM
INeedAName: I know eff all about guns, so if I sound ignorant, it's because I am.

Would a similar creation, on a much larger scale be able to launch something like the space shuttle?


Sure, given a powerful enough system. The problem is this:

Velocity is acceleration x time. Acceleration can be thought of as multiples of gravity. Let's say you want to to get to 17,000 MPH off a railgun. Let's for the sake of simplicity say the gun is long enough to impart acceleration for a full second. You'd need to accelerate from 0 to 17,000 MPH in 1 second. So you'd need to average 7,600 m/s^2 of acceleration. That's 775 times the force of gravity. A 180 pound person would weigh about 70 tons. In other words: squished into jelly.

t3knomanser: Because of this, they make excellent artillery, and several naval warships carry rail-guns.

Absolutely not (yet). The USN has been making noise about kinetic energy weapons since the '80s, but so far nothing has been fielded.
 
2009-09-14 09:19:12 AM
hazeleyedwolff: INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?

If it's what I think it is, there are no moving parts, so there is less chance of mechanical failure/jamming, and less maintenance involved.


The chief problem with maintenance and endurance of the guns is the immense amount of heat the generate through firing which, unless the invent some fantastic new heat resistnt materials for it, ruins some of the parts after a few firings.
 
2009-09-14 09:32:13 AM
Snuke: hazeleyedwolff: If it's what I think it is, there are no moving parts, so there is less chance of mechanical failure/jamming, and less maintenance involved

As others have said, the high amount of energy plays hell on the rails as the projectile leaves the gun. The rails need to be replace relatively often in high powered guns. Also the charging system is pretty complex as well.


Not only that, but while you don't have the problem of a magazine full of gunpowder exploding, you do have the issue of a ginormical bank of capacitors getting shorted by shrapnel, which would probably have a similar effect.

Of course, it wouldn't be a problem if they weren't charged up, but it's likely they would be if you were in a combat situation.
 
2009-09-14 09:32:40 AM
i have a high level small guns skill. Crap encumbered cant carry it
 
2009-09-14 09:44:40 AM
INeedAName: t3knomanser: INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?

This question is... difficult to answer. They're so very different in concept and purpose that there's no real comparison. It's not really practical or desirable to build a rail-gun on the same scale as a crew-serviced firearm.

A rail-gun uses electricity to propel a projectile. By doing so, one doesn't need to be as concerned about barrel strength (you're not setting off an explosion), or volume (again, no explosion, but a potential sonic boom), and the maximum force you can exert is a function of the strength of your barrel and the amount of electricity you're devoting to the task.

Because of this, they make excellent artillery, and several naval warships carry rail-guns.

So, basically, one could fire just about any projectile given enough power and barrel strength, gotcha. I guess I just don't see the value of it over another choice. Unless you can fire a larger caliber with more speed and/or taking up less space?

I know eff all about guns, so if I sound ignorant, it's because I am.

Would a similar creation, on a much larger scale be able to launch something like the space shuttle?


The advantage of a rail gun is that you can, with the same sized barrel, get much higher muzzle velocities than with conventional gunpowder. That gives you more range and a harder hit (i.e. firing line-of-sight against a heavily armored target).

As far as launching the space shuttle, even if the shuttle had the structural integrity to handle the acceleration, the human body does not. The shuttle accelerates at (IIRC) 3 times the acceleration of earth's gravity (about 30 m/sec2) for about 8 minutes before reaching orbit. I'm not qualified to do all the math, but let's just say a rail gun ten miles long would require acceleration such that the astronauts would be dead in very short order.
 
2009-09-14 09:45:51 AM
To clarify my post: Earth's gravitational acceleration is 9.8 m/sec2, the figure I gave was 3x that (and rounded)
 
2009-09-14 09:46:22 AM
Now if only they can put a scope that can see through walls, it'll be perfect. Hooray for one shot kills.

\Relatively old, hopefully not obscure
\\Was that a thermal scope or just one that detected life forms?
 
2009-09-14 09:48:04 AM
INeedAName: t3knomanser: INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?

One possible other reason would be that the maximum velocity of a gun is ultimately dependent on the pressure inside the barrel which is limited by a combination of available materials and thicknesses. There is a maximum pressure that materials currently available can withstand and there are practical limits to thickness of the barrel so there's an upper limit on the velocity you can attain. With a railgun you can (in theory) attain higher velocities - given you solve power, structural, conductivity and projectile issues. With kinetic penetrators velocity drives energy delivered so basically you get a bigger 'bang' at the end.
 
2009-09-14 09:50:08 AM
With railguns, instead of only adjusting the gun elevation, you can also vary the amount of jolt, which makes it possible to be more precise. Powder-driven guns you have modular bags or charges of powder for a rough, limited way to "throttle" the range, then you use the firing arc to place the rounds where you want them to fall.

The railgun can potentially throw solid kinetic slugs much farther than a powder-explosive-powered one (for the same size gun). The plan is for naval railguns to have a higher rate of fire as well. Erosion of the rails has been the problem, lab models only last a couple of shots and then are ruined.

If the railgun uses just magnetism, (gauss gun) like a solenoid in your old fashioned doorbell, it can last longer, because it is frictionless, but the usual designs you see have an electric arc, with hot plasma and an associated pulse of electromagnetism, travel down the rail, pushing the slug ahead of it like a surfboard on a wave. That arc burns away the plus and minus tracks of the rails with each shot.

These are very much more complicated than powder-guns, but progress is being made and there are plans to equip the next generation of cruisers/destroyers/littoral combat ships with them.
 
2009-09-14 09:54:22 AM
dittybopper: Incorrect.

I'm over simplifying. For the same projectile velocity, you don't need to worry about the same sorts of stresses. The whole point of rail-guns is that they can propel a massive slug cheaper and with much more velocity than the equivalent explosive projectile.

Guysmiley: Absolutely not (yet).

I could have sworn I read something about field tests on warships a few years back, but apparently I hallucinated it.
 
2009-09-14 09:55:24 AM
Call me when it is portable like this.

aliens.humlak.cz
 
2009-09-14 09:55:56 AM
Any Pie Left: If the railgun uses just magnetism, (gauss gun) like a solenoid in your old fashioned doorbell

That's not a rail-gun, that's a coil-gun. Because of the limits of induction, they can't deliver the same kind of power as a rail-gun can.
 
2009-09-14 09:58:13 AM
INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?

The Navy is researching rail guns because they would weigh less than conventional ones, and since they rely on electromagnetics to fire rounds, you wouldn't need a big, dangerous pile of explosives stored in a magazine. All of that means a lighter ship, and a much more deadly ship: a combat-ready rail gun would be able to fire Mach 5 projectiles over 200 miles with pinpoint accuracy, hitting 5 meter targets

Citation (new window)
 
2009-09-14 10:03:02 AM
INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?

The advantage is that you can feast endlessly on newbies' tears as you spawn camp with the rail gun. If you use the machine gun they can get away, thereby limiting your schadenfreude.
 
2009-09-14 10:06:23 AM
Another reason why railguns are being looked at is because they can achieve very high velocities, making accuracy much better, and countermeasures useless. That and the fact that railguns can achieve relativistic energy levels. This will become important because the other big thing being researched with some success are super powerful magnetic shields -- the kind that would be powerful enough to protect against bullets and missiles.

The big drawback to both of those are energy requirements and cooling. This means that unless a radical breakthrough in energy storage takes place, this would only be efficient on naval platforms and large artillery pieces (and that probably in anti-artillery role).
 
2009-09-14 10:08:27 AM
BigSlowTarget: INeedAName: t3knomanser: INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?

One possible other reason would be that the maximum velocity of a gun is ultimately dependent on the pressure inside the barrel which is limited by a combination of available materials and thicknesses. There is a maximum pressure that materials currently available can withstand and there are practical limits to thickness of the barrel so there's an upper limit on the velocity you can attain. With a railgun you can (in theory) attain higher velocities - given you solve power, structural, conductivity and projectile issues. With kinetic penetrators velocity drives energy delivered so basically you get a bigger 'bang' at the end.


Conventional guns are thermodynamically limited: There is only so much power gunpowder can give you, and adding more increases recoil and barrel wear without significantly increasing velocity.

This effect happens at a fairly low velocity with black powder, and at a much higher velocity with smokeless powder.

As I recall, practical hand held firearms are limited to around 5,500-6,000 fps, with the ultimate theoretical limit somewhere between 9,000 and 13,000 fps.
 
2009-09-14 10:08:40 AM
potierrh: Another reason why railguns are being looked at is because they can achieve very high velocities, making accuracy much better, and countermeasures useless. That and the fact that railguns can achieve relativistic energy levels. This will become important because the other big thing being researched with some success are super powerful magnetic shields -- the kind that would be powerful enough to protect against bullets and missiles.

The big drawback to both of those are energy requirements and cooling. This means that unless a radical breakthrough in energy storage takes place, this would only be efficient on naval platforms and large artillery pieces (and that probably in anti-artillery role).


relativistic energies? Citation needed.

Rail gun speeds = 20,000 m/s
Speed of light = 3.0*10^8 m/s
 
2009-09-14 10:17:11 AM
stuhayes2010: INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?

The Navy is researching rail guns because they would weigh less than conventional ones, and since they rely on electromagnetics to fire rounds, you wouldn't need a big, dangerous pile of explosives stored in a magazine. All of that means a lighter ship, and a much more deadly ship: a combat-ready rail gun would be able to fire Mach 5 projectiles over 200 miles with pinpoint accuracy, hitting 5 meter targets

Citation (new window)


Doesn't necessarily mean a lighter ship: You have to replace the magazines where you stored your powder with capacitor banks and extra power generation capabilities.

Plus, you still have to store your projectiles, although kinetic ones are 'inert' so you won't have special handling issues with them.

One big issue this is going to cause is magnetic fields. Navies have been degaussing ships ever since the magnetically triggered naval mine was first used in WWII. I imagine the magnetic flux when you fire one of those things is rather intense (in essence, it's a linear electric motor). That could make magnetic mines or other magnetically triggered (or guided) weapons practical again.
 
2009-09-14 10:20:50 AM
You're also forgetting the other reason for using railguns as naval artillery: Projectile cost. The idea is to hit something with the precision and destructive power of a cruise missile with a projectile that costs next to nothing (comparatively).
 
2009-09-14 10:25:30 AM
Interesting vid, but was much more interested in the Navy version the article had a link to. Was unaware of how far along the tech on this weaponry was.
 
2009-09-14 10:26:27 AM
Embden.Meyerhof: Looks like he's testing it out in an abandoned row-house. I half-expected to see a dead body in the corner.

Wasn't us
www.mikekarnj.com
 
2009-09-14 10:28:22 AM
t3knomanser: Silentvoice: He laughed in my face :(

It's not hard. In college, I built a few prototype rail-guns operating at low voltages. The hardest part of building a rail-gun is working with high voltage safely.


You mean amperage.
 
2009-09-14 10:28:40 AM
INeedAName: t3knomanser: INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?


Would a similar creation, on a much larger scale be able to launch something like the space shuttle?


As already said, the acceleration would not do well for manned flight.

But, one proposal for rail gun tech would be for a lunar mining colony. Mine and refine on the moon, then send the finished product to an orbiting factory using a rail gun. Not having to use fuel to leave lunar gravity saves a lot of money in production.
 
2009-09-14 10:34:09 AM
dittybopper: stuhayes2010: INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?

The Navy is researching rail guns because they would weigh less than conventional ones, and since they rely on electromagnetics to fire rounds, you wouldn't need a big, dangerous pile of explosives stored in a magazine. All of that means a lighter ship, and a much more deadly ship: a combat-ready rail gun would be able to fire Mach 5 projectiles over 200 miles with pinpoint accuracy, hitting 5 meter targets

Citation (new window)

Doesn't necessarily mean a lighter ship: You have to replace the magazines where you stored your powder with capacitor banks and extra power generation capabilities.

Plus, you still have to store your projectiles, although kinetic ones are 'inert' so you won't have special handling issues with them.

One big issue this is going to cause is magnetic fields. Navies have been degaussing ships ever since the magnetically triggered naval mine was first used in WWII. I imagine the magnetic flux when you fire one of those things is rather intense (in essence, it's a linear electric motor). That could make magnetic mines or other magnetically triggered (or guided) weapons practical again.


Yeah, I'd imagine people with pace makers should not work on these ships.
 
2009-09-14 10:37:57 AM
artthehypnotist: INeedAName: t3knomanser: INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?


Would a similar creation, on a much larger scale be able to launch something like the space shuttle?

As already said, the acceleration would not do well for manned flight.

But, one proposal for rail gun tech would be for a lunar mining colony. Mine and refine on the moon, then send the finished product to an orbiting factory using a rail gun. Not having to use fuel to leave lunar gravity saves a lot of money in production.


Yeah, but watch out for Professor de la Paz.
 
2009-09-14 10:40:41 AM
scanman61: artthehypnotist: INeedAName: t3knomanser: INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?


Would a similar creation, on a much larger scale be able to launch something like the space shuttle?

As already said, the acceleration would not do well for manned flight.

But, one proposal for rail gun tech would be for a lunar mining colony. Mine and refine on the moon, then send the finished product to an orbiting factory using a rail gun. Not having to use fuel to leave lunar gravity saves a lot of money in production.

Yeah, but watch out for Professor de la Paz.


I'll be off polishing my cannon.
 
2009-09-14 10:50:53 AM
I want to thank you all for a very informative thread, and not jumping down my throat for my ignorance. I def learned some stuff today!
 
2009-09-14 10:56:09 AM
oldass31: You mean amperage.

If we want to be pedantic, we should really be talking about "power". Most practical designs for a home-built rail-gun use high voltage caps to get the high current you need to create the magnetic field that fires your projectile.

P = VI, as they say.
 
2009-09-14 10:56:50 AM
INeedAName: t3knomanser: INeedAName: So, I'm curious (I didnt play much Quake as a kid) so what's the benefit of a rail gun over a large caliber machine gun?

This question is... difficult to answer. They're so very different in concept and purpose that there's no real comparison. It's not really practical or desirable to build a rail-gun on the same scale as a crew-serviced firearm.

A rail-gun uses electricity to propel a projectile. By doing so, one doesn't need to be as concerned about barrel strength (you're not setting off an explosion), or volume (again, no explosion, but a potential sonic boom), and the maximum force you can exert is a function of the strength of your barrel and the amount of electricity you're devoting to the task.

Because of this, they make excellent artillery, and several naval warships carry rail-guns.

So, basically, one could fire just about any projectile given enough power and barrel strength, gotcha. I guess I just don't see the value of it over another choice. Unless you can fire a larger caliber with more speed and/or taking up less space?

I know eff all about guns, so if I sound ignorant, it's because I am.

Would a similar creation, on a much larger scale be able to launch something like the space shuttle?


Assuming you have a large enough power source you can get higher velocities -- better range and penetration. The size requirement per round is smaller (no propellent). And the act of firing the gun will be MUCH quieter.

The only practical small arms version of a railgun I can think of would be a sniper rifle.

Oh and you wouldn't want to put people in a railgun. The acceleration would do bad things. The scifi use of them is usually for firing off orbital payloads.
 
2009-09-14 11:02:29 AM
Ashelth: The only practical small arms version of a railgun I can think of would be a sniper rifle.

Even then, the energies we're dealing with are far more convenient to use chemical propellants.
 
2009-09-14 11:08:47 AM
I forget what they're called, but people build those magnetic guns all the time...They aren't really rail guns. I didn't really watch the video, but those other ones work by pulling the ammunition and then stopping being magnetic at just the right point...some people made pistols and stuff...some are dumb, some are pretty cool.
 
2009-09-14 11:11:20 AM
t3knomanser: oldass31: You mean amperage.

If we want to be pedantic, we should really be talking about "power". Most practical designs for a home-built rail-gun use high voltage caps to get the high current you need to create the magnetic field that fires your projectile.

P = VI, as they say.


What's high voltage for you? For me, anything over 20 is undesirable.
 
2009-09-14 11:14:50 AM
Forgive my ignorance, but a question to all you folk saying you couldn't use the railgun for manned applications due to the rather squishy nature the crew; Aren't there currently amusement park rides that use a railgun to accelerate the car rapidly (Superman, I think, at Magic Mountain comes to mind)? Can't you just make the railgun longer, enabling you to accelerate over a longer distance?
 
2009-09-14 11:26:28 AM
Gevis: I forget what they're called, but people build those magnetic guns all the time...They aren't really rail guns. I didn't really watch the video, but those other ones work by pulling the ammunition and then stopping being magnetic at just the right point...some people made pistols and stuff...some are dumb, some are pretty cool.

What you are describing sounds like a coilgun.

Different beast.
 
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