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Efforts to restart smart-gun innovation could misfire again

Lucas Mearian | Oct. 17, 2016
Smart-gun technology is now benefiting from faster processors and the miniaturization of processors

The smart-gun development community, however, is virtually in unison in decrying government mandates for their technology. Mossberg and other say smart guns are not for everyone, nor do they fit every purpose. For example, while smart-gun technology may save a police officer or soldier from having their weapon used against them, a hunter has little need of a fingerprint scanner or radio frequency identification (RFID) chip in his weapon.

When it comes to the technology affecting reliability, Mossberg understands that some smart guns will be more reliable than others. But with the right technology -- especially today's advanced microelectronics -- they can be just as reliable as any standard weapon.

smart guns 

The iGun ring with an RFID chip. An LED light in the stock shows when the weapon is locked or unlocked.

"I came from the gun industry. I know what reliability means. I'm a gun owner. I'm an NRA member. A gun needs to work when you need it to work. You don't want to swipe your fingerprint and have it say, 'Please try again.'" Mossberg said. "My goal with my engineers was to build a gun as reliable as the most reliable gun in the world, which was the Mossberg Model 500."

For the iGun, Mossberg chose a ring with an RFID chip in it to send a signal to a circuit board in the shotgun. The RFID uses a low magnetic frequency that requires a shooter's hand to be properly oriented to the gun's trigger, and the chip transmits its low-frequency signal only a couple of millimeters. Once someone wearing the ring grabs the shotgun, the circuit board activates two tiny motors that unlock the trigger. The entire process takes less than a quarter of a second, Mossberg said.

The company's first ring was the size of a Superbowl ring -- in other words, huge. But now, "with this current chip... we're talking technology that's now the size of a grain of rice. There's no electricity. There's a battery in the ring. It's waterproof," he said.

Mossberg said his iGun shotgun is only a prototype and his goal is to create a line of smart pistols.

In 2013, Mossberg's iGun won a first place innovator's award from the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation, an organization founded by Silicon Valley angel investor Ron Conway for the purpose of promoting gun safety technology. From a $1 million kitty, the Foundation awarded Mossberg a $100,000 development grant. Along with Mossberg, the Foundation has awarded 15 development grants to innovators, such as Tom Lynch who put a fingerprint scanner on an AR-15 assault rifle, Robert McNamara whose guns also use RFID chip technology, Omer Kiyani, who created a biometric gun lock and Kai Kloepfer.


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