Kurt Boeker points one of the paintball guns that fire less lethal projectiles at a gel designed to absorb the projectiles. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

FRYEBURG — A Fryeburg entrepreneur has received four Maine Technology Institute grants totaling almost $22,000 to develop a “less lethal” weapon: An air-powered grenade launcher that can shoot specialized projectiles at a safe velocity whether the target is 10 feet away or 300.

Kurt Boeker is hoping it someday becomes a police department staple and saves lives.

Kurt Boeker displays a handful of the less lethal projectiles designed to minimize deaths. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Boeker, a web developer and programmer, was inspired by police riot videos on YouTube.

“I saw people getting really hurt by beanbags coming out of shotguns and 40 mm grenades — those types of weapons can fracture your skull or break your ribs and push them through your heart and lungs,” he said. “I just thought, ‘What the heck, we can’t do anything about that? There’s lots of technology available.'”

So four years ago, he got to work.

“Most guys my age build a car in the garage,” Boeker said, “but I don’t have a garage, so …”

He said it took about two years to develop a valve, software and laser system for the laser and light detection and ranging-controlled Variable Velocity Less Lethal Launcher.

“The laser goes out and it finds out how far away the person is,” Boeker said. “The computer adjusts the pressure on the air valve to fire at a certain velocity depending upon how far away the person is. We make them safe at close distance, and at any distance, and also, because now we can adjust the pressure, we can even start at a higher pressure than the police are using and that means we can double their distance while still being safe.”

Among the uses he anticipates is in crowd control, riot scenarios and dealing with people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Grimburg Less Lethal projectiles and a block of ballistic gel. When the projectiles are fired, they do not penetrate into the gel very far. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“We’re at 200 feet away (with the early prototype) and we’re hoping to get to 300,” he said. “The farther you are away from the person throwing Molotov cocktails or running around with a knife, if you’re 300 feet away, all the better.”

Ideally, Boeker said, depending on velocity, if it lands on someone’s clothing, it might leave a large bruise.

Boeker said he’s able to increase power and accuracy by bore-matching a specific rifled barrel from Carmatech Engineering.

To help fund his start-up, Grimburg Less Lethal, his company has already developed special 68-caliber projectiles out of a nylon and copper powder mix for use in paintball guns for self-defense and sold 25,000 since April.

Last month, Boeker also started selling customized paintball guns, retrofitted to best fit his projectiles, that do not feature laser and LIDAR-controlled variability but do use the Carmatech barrels.

People who have used paintball guns with 68-caliber balls in the past for self-defense have often experienced them being too big or too small, he said. “So when the air would blast through there, it would go around the projectile and you’d lose a bunch of power,” he said. “So now, we have these, they fill up the area — you get the most power you possibly can get from these.”

The D-shaped projectiles, about the size of a marble, sell for about $1 a round and carry a warning that “testing on people or animals will absolutely result in serious injury, and possibly death.”

He’s hoping to move into larger space this spring to work on the design and have the Variable Velocity Less Lethal Launcher available to the public in two years.

The global nonlethal weapons market — think Tasers, pepper spray, beanbags — is forecast to pass $10 billion in 2025, according to analysts ResearchAndMarkets.com.

Grimburg Less Lethal’s Variable Velocity Less Lethal Launcher in development. Submitted photo

So far, the projectile rounds have been bought by civilians for self-defense, but he does have an order pending from a California sheriff’s department. They fit into many magazine-fed paintball guns as well as the ones he’s modified, which Boeker said have been developed in cooperation with firearms instructors, military special forces members and self-defense experts.

Grimburg Less Lethal has attracted a few investors and Boeker has also found sponsorships to support some of the work.

“They don’t replace guns (and) I’m not against firearms, they have a place, though,” Boeker said. “I don’t want to ever have to shoot somebody, I would rather use something like this.”

This story was updated at 2:08 p.m. on Sunday.

Kurt Boeker points one of the paintball guns that fire less lethal projectiles at ballistic gel designed to absorb the projectiles. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

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