Even if you’re going into battle with brightly colored plastic blasters loaded with painless foam darts, the element of surprise can still be an advantage. Sneaking up on your enemy with a Nerf gun in hand isn’t exactly stealthy, but is it the same with a handful of sophisticated, self-shooting darts? Nobody will know your real intentions.
When we last got in touch with Joel Hartlaub of the Joel Creates YouTube channel, they had managed to upgrade a cardboard tube — every kid’s imaginative replacement for a Star Wars lightsaber — with a self-extending blade. Still focused on entertainment for kids 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.
This Nerf dart fires itself
There are two main methods of building a market-friendly self-shooting arrow: spring-loaded mechanisms and compressed air. Hartlaub acknowledged that explosives could also be used, but then you would be moving into more dangerous and less marketable territory. Therefore, most hand-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 fired successfully using nothing but a feather, a nail with a notch in the tip, and a thin aluminum tube. All pressed right into the dart itself.
It worked, but the range and power weren’t exactly intimidating. After a few more experiments – some of them questionably safe thanks to the use of butane and even gasoline with a spark lighter – Hartlaub managed to create an impressive ignition mechanism that is just as small, albeit relying on explosions. Now her arrow uses a capacitor, a heating element as an igniter, and a small button that ignites lightning floss stuffed deep into the arrow. The Flash cotton creates enough expanding air to get the arrow flying, but with a minimal amount of heat to keep the foam material from melting.
In testing, the explosive, self-firing dart could fly an impressive 44 feet, while most basic Nerf blasters have a range of around 50 feet. With further testing and an optimized amount of flash cotton (which doesn’t shred the dart in the process) the range could probably be increased even further. Even if Hasbro would never let it come to market.