Bullet Points: Smart Guns

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Everything is smart now. Phones, cars, watches, and now, even mundane things like lightbulbs and locks can do more than some of the tech we carried around just a few years ago. As with everything else tech-related, smart guns, which were once relegated to the pages of science fiction, are available, in some way, shape of form, to at least some of the people who want them.

Before anything else though, a quick survey of the scene yields varied results as to what exactly smart guns are at the moment. There are guns that are smart because they recognize that they are in the “correct” hands, and those that are smart because they actively help the user nail the target they’re aiming for.

The first, which seems like a great idea at least on paper, incorporate some form of identification hardware and software into the firearm, with a corresponding “key” on the person that. The key usually takes the form of an Radio Frequency ID (RFID) fob in the form of a watch, or the user’s fingerprint. The fingerprint solution requires that the registered users’ registered finger fall squarely on the sensor, while the RFID system needs to have the fob within a certain set distance for the internal smart safety to be disengaged.

This is great on paper. A firearm with a biometric scanner would have to be held in a proper firing grip before all the safeties can be disengaged. A firearm wrestled from its owner could not be turned against them, and in cases where a weapon is mistakenly left in easy access of unintended individuals, there would be a greatly reduced risk of it being fired.

It’s not without its problems though. As with anything smart, it will inevitably have to rely on electronic circuitry. These circuits need power—power which is usually drawn from batteries. Now, they don’t draw a lot of power, so batteries should last a significant amount of time, but they still run out. As anyone who owns a flashlight knows, they can sometimes run out at the worst possible moment. Should that moment happen when you are in critical need of your weapon, a really bad day will just have gotten so much worse.

Another issue is the sensitivity of the equipment. Sure, they can be solidly-built, and practically bomb-proof, but all you need is a single failure for the whole system to fall apart. The more parts you have, the greater the chance you have of hitting the jackpot in the worst possible way.’

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Biometric scanners built into weapons also have inherent problems. Though training necessarily involved getting the proper grip (and therefore, consistent finger placement in relation to a fingerprint sensor) is always the first step during the draw, but what if you’re taking a tumble, or forced to use another hand, or covered in water or blood? Manufacturers claim their technology works about 99 percent of the time, but, like batteries, that 1 percent just feels a little too large for us to be comfortable. And what when you need to hand your weapon off to a good Samaritan, or some other friendly? It gets complicated.

If you really want to get tinfoil hat-y, consider what would happen to the guns should someone create some form of device to remotely interfere with your smart firearm, or worse yet, come up with a countermeasure that messes with all similar systems in an area. The ramifications are unpleasant to say the least.

Those, and some other legal factors (at least in the US) have delayed the adoption of this type of smart firearm, and it seems like such will be the case for some time to come.

Those firearms enthusiasts who want the future now have something to tide them over though.

Trackingpoint, a US-based company, has come up with a few weapons platforms that incorporate some pretty hardcore tech that practically guaranteed hits past half a kilometer away.

The platform is more than just a set of optics, though it does rely heavily on that. It comes with a massive optic at the top of the weapon, which combines range-finding, magnification, tagging and other features to help you pull of that impossible shot. Users can pick a target, use the HUD to tag it, and then simply squeeze the trigger, and line up the crosshairs to the aim point, and *Bang*, the shot is made. The system takes into account the target’s range, movement, and the shooters’ own inputs to break the shot at exactly the right moment to hit the target.

This is, obviously, even more complicated than the relatively simple user identification of the previous form of smart firearm, so unti the benefits vastly outweigh the glaring costs of the system, it seems like this may be relegated to less critical situations than self-defense. The lowest model also costs about PHP 333,000.

Firearms are, essentially, simple pieces of kit, and for good reason. There’s a lot going on inside them, and more chances of failure mean a less reliable firearm, which really isn’t something you want in a tool that you might be relying on to save your life. There’s a lot of catching up to do in the firearms scene, but the future is broad, and technology moves fast. Don’t lose hope, we’ll get there eventually.