These Nerf Darts Can Fire Themselves

These Nerf Darts Can Fire Themselves

Even when you’re going into battle with garishly coloured plastic blasters loaded with painless foam darts, the element of surprise can still be advantageous. Sneaking up on your enemy with a Nerf gun in hand isn’t exactly stealthy, but doing the same with a handful of cleverly engineered self-firing darts? No one will realise your true intentions.

The last time we checked in with Joel Hartlaub of the YouTube channel Joel Creates, they had managed to upgrade a cardboard tube — every child’s imagination-powered stand-in for a Star Wars lightsaber — with a self-extending blade. Still focusing on entertainment for children and kidults (yes, that’s a real term used by marketers), Hartlaub set out to design and build the world’s smallest Nerf blaster; so small that it fits entirely inside a Nerf dart itself.

There are two primary methods to building a market friendly self-firing dart: spring-loaded mechanisms and compressed air. Hartlaub acknowledged that you could also use explosives, but then you’re moving into more dangerous and less marketable territory. So most manually primed dart blasters use a combination of the first two methods, where a compressed spring creates a blast of air in a chamber when released. After some trial and error, Hartlaub was able to create a self-contained foam dart that successfully fired using nothing but a spring, a nail with a notch on the tip, and a thin aluminium tube. All squeezed right inside the dart itself.

It worked, but the range and power wasn’t exactly intimidating. So after some more experimentation — some of it questionably safe thanks to the use of butane and even gasoline with a spark lighter — Hartlaub managed to create an impressive firing mechanism that’s just as small, even if it does resort to using explosions. Now their dart uses a capacitor, a heating element as an ignitor, and a small button that ignites flash cotton stuffed deep into the dart. The flash cotton generates enough expanding air to send the dart flying, but with a minimal amount of heat so the foam material won’t melt.

In testing, the explosive self-firing dart was able to fly an impressive 13.41 m, whereas most basic Nerf blasters have a range of about 15.24 m. With further testing and an optimised amount of flash cotton (that doesn’t blow the dart to bits in the process) the range could probably be increased even further. Even if Hasbro would never let it go to market.

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