Smart gun company aims to begin production soon

Fingerprint technology could enable only one person -- or thousands -- to use same gun

Safe Gun Technology (SGTi) co-founder Charlie Miller has a message for people who think smart-gun technology wouldn't have stopped Adam Lanza from killing 26 in Newtown, Conn. last December.

"There was a zero percent chance of stopping him because this technology was not available," Miller said. "Let's think about if Miss Lanza had had our technology on her weapon."

Adam Lanza, who murdered 20 children and six Sandy Hook Elementary staff on Dec. 14, used his mother Nancy's guns to do it.

According to Miller, had smart gun technology been available to Nancy Lanza, she could have programmed her guns so that only her fingerprint could have activated them; she could have enabled her son to shoot them at a firing range and disabled them upon returning home, or she could have enabled them for her son to use all the time, Miller said.

"So without the technology, we went from zero percent chance of preventing the shootings to having the technology and a 66% chance of preventing it," Miller said. "Those are much better odds."

Development of smart gun technology that -- through biometrics or RFID chips -- can limit who can use a gun, has been slow to evolve because of little interest from venture capitalists. In fact, current prototypes are based on five- to 10-year-old microprocessors because of a lack of funds for development.

Miller is hoping he can begin production on his version of a smart gun within the next two months. His company has been working on it for 10 years, and has relied solely on private investments to date. The company hopes to get additional funding to create an updated prototype that would be available to gun manufacturers, and for retail in the form of a retrofit kit, within the next year.

Columbus, Ga.-based SGTi's technology uses relatively simple fingerprint recognition through an infrared reader. The biometrics reader enables three other physical mechanisms that control the trigger, the firing pin and the gun hammer.

Miller declined to detail how they work, saying it would expose his company's intellectual property.

Once an authorized user places his or her finger on the scanner, which is located in a natural position on the gun's grip, it activates the gun's enabling mechanisms in about one-third of a second, he said.

A secondary "tape switch", commonly used by police and military to turn on gun-mounted flashlights, is also depressed by the shooter, which keeps the gun in active mode. If a shooter releases the tape switch for any reason, the gun deactivates and a shooter must again place their finger on the scanner before the gun is enabled.

Tape switch
An example of a tape switch. A flat pressure pad that, when depressed, turns on a gun-mounted flashlight

The military is another venue for SGTi's technology, Miller said. The smart gun chip has enough non-volatile data storage capacity to hold up to 20,000 finger prints. So theoretically, the fingerprints of soldiers in an Army division could be programmed into every weapon in the unit. If an enemy combatant obtained one of the weapons, however, it would be disabled.

The idea of an enabling tape switch has been lauded by police departments because in a struggle with a suspect, the first thing they often go for it the gun. With the SGTi technology, once a gun is out of an officer's grip, it's disabled, Miller said.

prototype
SGTi's initial prototype used a Remington 870 shotgun and a smart gun mechanism about the size of a blackboard eraser

The company's only working prototype was created five years ago and incorporated into a Remington 870 shotgun. The computer controlling the fingerprint technology that is mounted on the gun is about the size of a blackboard eraser. A new prototype the company is producing uses microchips that make no discernible change to the profile of the weapon.

The new chip-level technology can be incorporated by a gun manufacturer or retrofitted to older weapons by an authorized gunsmith, Miller said.

Miller said his company's technology has nothing to do with any pro- or anti-gun position he holds. It's just about safety, he said. He also believes smart gun technology should be market driven and not enforced by government regulations.

"If America stopped manufacturing guns tomorrow, you'd still have more than 300 million of them out there," he said. "We've dedicated well over 10 years to come up with this solution. We have a lot of people in this company who've put a lot of blood sweat and tears into it and never gotten a penny out of it. If we were in it for the money, we would have been out of it a long time ago.

"Our motto is ... if we save the life of one child, it's a miracle to that child and everyone that child touches."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at  @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

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