As a teenager, Omer Kiyani was shot in the face with an unsecured firearm. He still struggles with the trauma. But the Detroit engineer now believes he has created a device that would have saved him and may save thousands of others.
He calls it "Identilock," and while it still needs final adjustments to the prototype and further investment, Kiyani expects to launch his smart gun technology in U.S. stores within a year, retailing for around $300.
The device attaches to the trigger of a handgun, which can then only be unlocked by biometric authentication, preventing any unauthorized user from firing the weapon. Drawing on breakthroughs in mobile technology, the trigger is released by similar fingerprint sensors to those used in Apple's iPhone 5S. Those sensors are approved by the FBI, and widely found in security scanners.
"The key is reliability," says Kiyani. "The sensor has proved itself in different sectors over the past few years and the market is aware of its capability."
The gun is enabled in under a second from first contact, and engineers are chipping away to further reduce the time. Eventually, it is hoped the lock will be integrated and the release will be instant.
Even if all goes to plan, Kiyani's will not be the first smart gun system to hit the U.S. market. In February, German firm Armatix launched its iP1 pistol that uses a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip activated by the owner's watch, and the competition is growing.
Directives from the White House to promote development of safety technology in the wake of school shootings have led to a surge of innovation. There is now an increased appetite and funding for a field that had stalled since the earlier designs in the 1970s. The boldest statement is an open challenge from The Smart Tech Foundation. It was created by Silicon Valley angel investor Ron Conway and serial entrepreneur Jim Pitkow in response to the Sandy Hook shootings and is making $1 million in prizes available for development of the best ideas.
Many gun rights advocates are hostile to the concept, arguing it is a ploy for gun control and is against the Second Amendment. Some gun advocates also argue that the electronics could be hacked by criminals. Opposition to Armatix's launch has reportedly been strong enough that it forced the vendor to withdraw its products. The California store which announced it would be selling Armatix products swiftly distanced itself from them following a severe backlash from gun rights activists.
The major gun manufacturers have also been wary. Sebastian works with major gun manufacturers and believes their reluctance stems partly from fears that once the first smart guns are established, the technology will become mandatory. He sympathizes: "It would be better if the transformation came through market demand rather than regulatory pressure."
Such fears may be justified. In 2002, New Jersey became the first U.S. state to legislate that new guns must be personalized within three years of the technology becoming available. The idea is also gaining currency across Europe.
Should such mandates be enacted, or if the new designs find a strong market, the drip-drip of smart gun innovation may well become a flood.
Recently MSNBC’s Chris Hayes did a series of segments on these issues. They should be must-viewing for anyone concerned with what is destined to become a new battleground over firearm safety.
(Material excerpted from reports by CNN)