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Could smart gun technology make us safer?

December 20, 2012 06:02 AM ET

"Then you get into where do you put it on the gun, so that your finger falls in a natural way. It's very difficult...to find one place that fits for all."

RFID technology

The Georgia Institute of Technology has developed RFID smart gun technology for a company called TriggerSmart, an Irish firm that has been granted patents for its weapons' safety devices in the U.S. and 47 other countries. The technology, developed at the school's County Westmeath, Ireland campus, has yet to be integrated by any gun manufacturers.

"They've done a lot of work in the U.S. with trying to get gun manufacturers [interested], but to be honest there's quite a bit of resistance from the gun industry in the U.S. to the technology," said Joe Dowling, general manager at Georgia Tech Ireland.

"They see it as another level of control that they don't want to implement," he continued. "TriggerSmart has been saying, 'Hey, it's not that we don't want you to have a gun, it's just another optional safety feature you may want.' "

Computerworld attempted to contact gun makers Smith & Wesson and Mossberg & Sons, both of which have had smart gun development efforts in the past. Smith & Wesson officials did not return requests for comment. Mossberg declined to comment on the issue.

In 1999, Mossberg subsidiary Advanced Ordnance and electronics design contractor KinTech Manufacturing developed a smart technology using RFID chips that was marketed by iGun Technology Corp.. Officials at iGun Technology could not be reached for comment.

TriggerSmart's technology also works with RFID chips through an RFID tag carried by or implanted in the hand of an authorized gun user. The tag sends a high frequency radio signal to a small motor that unlocks the gun's safety mechanism. Unless the RFID tag is within one centimeter of the gun's handle, the weapon's safety will remain in the locked position and it cannot be unlocked until the radio signal is received. A small rechargeable battery that can hold up to a week's worth of power, enables the internal motor.

The distance at which the signal works can be tuned to be several centimeters away from the gun or as close as two millimeters.

This video from TriggerSmart shows the RFID technology in use.

The technology used in TriggerSmart's prototype costs about $50, but if it were mass produced that cost would drop significantly, Dowling said. While the technology can be retrofitted to guns, the process requires a pistol grip change as well as the motor install, making it better suited to integration during the manufacturing process.

While the technology was originally developed for police use, it could easily be adapted for civilian or military use.

"We've been talking with the New York Police Department about it," Dowling said. "Up to 40% of instances where an officer is shot, they're shot with their own gun. This technology would obviously solve that problem."

Biometrics access control

Not all biometrics technology is focused on integration with weapons. For example, LEID Products LLC has created Biometric Access Control System (BACS) that can be used on gun lockers and storage containers to restrict access to guns and to track when and by whom weapons are used.

LEID Products has also created electronic lockers and rifle racks to secure the weapons. Authorized users whose names and biometric information has been recorded, go to a kiosk and log in by using either hand geometry or fingerprint scans. Users can also be limited to specific weapons, even if they're allowed into a locker with a gun rack.

"For example, if a law enforcement officer hadn't been certified to use a Taser, then he wouldn't be allowed to log in for access," said Georgia Whalen, director of marketing for LEID Products.

Gun-locker access can be controlled locally or remotely by one or more administrators using a PC. "So if an event like what happened at that elementary school occurred, the administrator can touch a computer button at home and release all the equipment to all the officers," Whalen said.



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