Armatix smart-gun tech reignites gun fight, with retailers in the middle

Gun groups are OK with 'voluntary use' of smart guns, but they'll fight mandates

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An RFID chip inside of a black wristwatch -- the iW1 -- enables the iP1 pistol. In order for the handgun to function, the matching watch must be within 10-in of it. The pistol can also be disabled with a timer or a PIN code entered into the iW1 watch. When the wristwatch is within 10-in, a green LED light on the gun's grip indicates it is enabled. When not, the light turns red, indicating the weapon is disabled.

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When the iP1 is enabled, its LED light turns green. When permission is denied, it turns red (Image: Armatix).

A spokesman for Armatix said Mauch chose a .22 caliber design for the company's first smart gun because it would require smaller, more intricate components -- hence proving its reliability for use in any other weapon.

"That's more difficult from a manufacturing standpoint, so if you can do with intricate, smaller parts, you can definitely do with larger calibers, such as 9mm - which they're expected to have shortly," the spokesman said.

While the technology seems like something any gun futurist would crave, it has created a firestorm of controversy.

The NSSF, for example, has raised concerns about the reliability of smart gun technology, which uses either biometrics (finger print or handgrip recognition) or RFID tags, along with an activation mechanism on the weapon.

In a blog written last year, Larry Keane, the NSSF's senior vice president and general counsel, pointed out that all smart gun technology relies on batteries, and "who among us has not experienced a drained smart phone battery or had some other piece of electronic gadgetry not work, even a flashlight, fail when we needed it?"

"Most people can appreciate technology, while realizing it can let you down at the worst of times," Keane wrote.

Sebastian countered Keane's argument saying that the power required for enabling smart gun technology is miniscule, and batteries can be incorporated in loaded magazines that can rest in recharging docking stations. There are also technologies under development to use the gun's recoil action to recharge the batteries.

"I recognize the issue, but don't see it as technological show stopper," Sebastian said. "I think there are ways of addressing that issue without it becoming an Achilles heal in the process."

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NJIT's Dynamic Grip Recognition on a Beretta 92F 9mm handgun (Image: NJIT)

The technology

While it's the first to offer integrated smart-gun technology to consumers, Armatix is not alone in its efforts. Smart gun technology comes in RFID chips, such as Armatix's wristwatch, as well as biometrics systems that can read fingerprints or even sense a person's unique grip.

NJIT is a leading, and early, developer of smart gun technology. For more than a dozen years, it has been testing a Dynamic Grip Recognition (DGR) technology that Sebastian claims is 99% effective in preventing unauthorized use of a gun. Unlike Armatix's technology, NJIT's is aimed squarely at protecting children.

"I applaud anyone who is moving electronics into the weapon, but I'm not sure RFID technology solves the issue of child-safe guns," Sebastian said.

The problem is that the digital token required for an RFID enabled gun is stored separate from the weapon. The gun owner has to protect the weapon and the device with the RFID chip, such as a watch or ring.

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