When President Obama announced his gun-control plan earlier this month in an emotional speech, he included a striking proposal:
“If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns? If there’s an app that can help us find a missing tablet … there’s no reason we can’t do it with a stolen gun.”
“Smart” guns are defined as any firearm that’s capable of recognising it’s owner in an effort to prevent unauthorised use. Different types of smart guns exist, but they fall into two major categories: radio-frequency identification device (RFID) enabled and biometric fingerprint sensors.
The Armatix iP1 is probably the most well-know smart gun enabled through RFID technology. The gun is paired with an RFID wristband, and if the shooter isn’t wearing the wristband, the gun simply won’t fire.
But for a number of reasons, the iP1 hasn’t been a hot seller.
In early January, the New Jersey legislature passed a law requiring that smart guns be sold alongside traditional firearms no more than three years after the smart technology hits the market, anywhere in the country. Governor Christie vetoed the law on Tuesday, reports Bloomberg.
Gun-rights advocates, including the NRA, fear that smart guns are a step towards government mandates controlling the types of firearms Americans can and can’t purchase. Because many gun-rights advocates are sceptical of the technology, retailers who put the iP1 on the shelf have been met with boycotts, and even death threats, reports Fortune.
And as the NRA has pointed out, the iP1 does have some serious design flaws. It takes up to 12 seconds to unlock the gun when it’s switched off (a “cold” start), and if the wristband isn’t within 10 inches of the watch, the gun won’t fire. And that’s not to mention issues with battery life, waterproofing, and the high sticker price — the base cost is more than $1700, five times the price of other .22 calibre pistols.
iGun Technology, a spin off of O.F. Mossberg & Sons directly focused on smart guns, has developed a ring-enabled shotgun. The gun owner must wear a chip-enabled ring to fire the weapon. Without the ring, the gun won’t fire.
The iGun and the iP1 are excellent for their primary purpose: keeping firearms away from children and preventing them from being stolen.
But both required an additional part to function. And that, whether it’s a wristband or a ring, can get lost or lose battery life — not ideal in an emergency situation.
Kloepfer’s gun, though a prototype, has sensors built directly into the grip — no wristband necessary — that recognise the owner’s fingerprint.
When the owner picks up Kloepfer’s gun, their finger will naturally land on the sensor. The sensor then captures an image of the fingerprint and checks to see if it matches the owner.
If it matches, the gun is unlocked and ready to use. If it doesn’t match, the gun remains locked. There’s no swiping involved, according to Kloepfer.
If that sounds similar to a smartphone, it’s because it is. Fingerprint sensors — whether mounted on the grip of a gun or an iPhone — work by analysing “features” of a fingerprint. These features are unique to a single person.
But sometimes your phone doesn’t unlock the first time. That’s fine when you’re trying to respond to a text message, but in a life-and-death situation, it’s completely unacceptable.
An NRA spokesman, Lars Dalseide, reflected this concern.
“In the regular operation of a firearm, your fingers get greasy, or you might get muddy,” Dalseide told Business Insider. “That will definitely affect how well the sensor can recognise your finger.”
Kloepfer’s sensor, however, has roughly twice the surface area a smartphone sensor. Though the technology is similar, Kloepfer’s sensor is two times as likely to find all the necessary features that it needs to unlock the gun.
When asked about exact numbers, Kloepfer pointed out that the gun was still in the prototype phase.
“I can’t give you some guarantee, that of course, right now, with my current prototype it will work every time,” says Kloepfer. “But that’s the single most important concern when I’m developing this technology.”
While Dalseide re-iterated that the NRA doesn’t specifically have a problem with fingerprint-sensing technology, he did bring up concerns about reliability and the government mandating the types of firearms available on the market.
“We believe that consumers should have the choice about what firearms they want to use,” Dalseide said. “That shouldn’t come from a mandate, especially because the technology is unproven.”
But according to Kloepfer, once his technology is perfected, his gun will be the consumer’s first choice.
“Smart guns really can provide additional safety without retracting from the experience or benefits of owning a gun,” Kloepfer said. “Assuming they’re done correctly, smart guns are a no-brainer.”
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