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Could smart gun technology make us safer?

Lucas Mearian | Dec. 21, 2012
In the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, smart gun technology prevents a bad guy from using Bond's own Walther PPK to shoot him. Far fetched? Not at all.

"That's what led to the selection of biometrics and use of grip recognition technology," he said. "It works while you're pulling the trigger. It's not like you put a thumb print on the bottom to turn it on, and for some period of time it's active and ready to go for some period of time whether you have custody or not."

Development has been slow, however, because funding has lagged, with little interest so far from venture capitalists. In fact, current prototypes are based on 10-year-old microprocessors because of a lack of funds, Sebastian said.

"We have found no interest on the part of gun manufacturers in commercializing any aspect of user-authenticating weapons," Sebastian said.

Sensors in an older generation of the current handgun once looked like this. Newer generations of the handgun will have sleeker, smaller sensors and microchips at least half the size of the ones in this photograph (Image: New Jersey Institute of Technology)

For Dynamic Grip Recognition to work, the gun's processor is first placed in learning mode. Then, the user must shoot about 50 rounds to train the weapon to recognize a specific grip. (Multiple users can be saved in the system's memory.)

The Dynamic Grip Recognition software algorithms can also be tuned to be more or less sensitive. For example, a gun could be tuned to only accept an adult's hand profile or one similar to the owner's, while preventing children from being able to use it, Sebastian said.

"If it's a kid, it will probably never be recognized as an authorized user because the physical geometry will never be a match," he said.

One problem with the current prototypes, which use a Beretta 92F 9mm semi-automatic pistol, is that besides the microprocessor, the battery and I/O interface technology used for programing the gun is a decade old and is too cumbersome for mass-market production. For example, the current battery is a 9-volt and the cable is based on either a USB cable or 25-pin RS232 connector that's years behind current technology. If upgraded, guns could be programmed using smart-phone LTE 5G wireless technology, Sebastian said.

A researcher on the smart gun team tests the gun's trigger switch. Beneath his hand sits a digital signal processor box. (Image: New Jersey Institute of Technology)

While NJIT may be using Beretta pistols to test its technology, the Beretta company has not supported the school's efforts, according to Sebastian.

"We're out of money," he said. "We're able to keep things going for another semester or so, but we're looking at private investment and we'll see if the mood is changing. "...That may bring more investors out of the cold."


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