Put together the words ‘gun’ and ‘internet,’ and what comes to mind? Probably concerns over 3-D printed guns, which could let just about anybody manufacture cheap but deadly plastic firearms. But some companies are using network technologies to build smart systems that actually improve gun safety.
It’s been a long time coming, as technologies like RFID and biometric sensors have been available for years, but integrating them with firearms has been a challenge. According to a 2013 report from the National Institute of Justice, which has poured tens of millions of dollars into gun safety research, only three companies are anywhere near bringing a realistic solution to the mass market.
iGun developed a prototype shotgun that used an RFID-enabled ring to identify authorized users as far back as 1998. But market research showed there wasn’t much demand, and the project was never completed.
More recently, German manufacturer Armatix created a Smart System consisting of a unique handgun that pairs with an RFID enabled watch at close range. The .22 caliber iP1 pistol carries a 10-round magazine, which is controlled electronically. Entering a PIN on the watch activates or deactivates the weapon, which will automatically shut off after a certain interval or if the gun moves more than 15 inches from the watch. The company also has technology that would render guns inoperable if they approached electronic markers deployed in restricted zones like airports, schools, or government buildings.
Intelligun, from Kodiak Industries, is a grip attachment for standard 1911-style handguns that goes the biometric route. It combines a pressure sensor on one side to detect contact with the palm when someone is holding the gun, with a fingerprint sensor on the other, to make sure that person is one of up to 20 authorized users. The grip locks to the handle, contains a lithium-ion battery that Kodiak claims will last about a year on a charge and can be removed with a key.
Both Armatix and Kodiak are working to expand their technology to other gun models. But acceptance of these technologies is an uphill battle. Reliability is a major concern voiced by both sides of the gun control debate. Everyone wants to be sure that the gun will be safe from accidental or malicious firings.
But for gun owners, there’s an additional worry: they need to know that their gun will work for them, immediately, every time. As the Washington Post’s Michael Rosenwald said in a recent video, “They don’t want to be in a situation where — Oh no! Someone’s coming through my front door. I need to reboot my gun.”