New Gun Safety by TriggerSmart Uses RFID to Identify Authorized Users

A new RFID-based safety could help prevent department-issued firearms from being used against police officers.  TriggerSmart, a start-up based in Ireland, uses off-the-shelf radio components to identify and authenticate the shooter handling the gun; if the shooter is the wrong person, the gun will not fire.

The idea for TriggerSmart’s design comes from Patrick O’Shaughnessy, who read about a police officer whose issued gun was taken from him and used against him.  The idea for putting biometric safeties on firearms isn’t new, but this method is.

Initially, O’Shaughnessy ran into a severe setback: in Ireland, it’s extremely difficult for most people to get handgun permits.  But with the help of his partner, Robert McNamara, the two would eventually get their hands on a pistol with the help of Georgia Institute of Technology, an extension of Georgia Tech in Ireland. They quickly worked out a prototype with SIG Sauer pistol.

A TriggerSmart installed in a SIG pistol

The TriggerSmart system embeds a small radio transmitter inside the grip of a pistol.  It can enable or disable the firearm.  Authorized shooters are issued a passive RFID chip that is powered remotely by the pistol’s transmitter, embedded in a ring or bracelet.  When the handgun is within a few inches of the RFID chip, it unlocks the firearm.  Smart Planet describes it in detail.

“Here’s how it works: a passive (batteryless) RFID tag is embedded in either a ring or a bracelet worn by the gun owner. Encoded to the tag is a unique number that an RFID reader embedded in the handle of the gun is programmed to recognize. As soon as the reader detects the tag, a microcontroller sends a message to a solenoid that is linked to the gun’s safety, making it possible to pull the trigger. ‘All that works in less than a quarter of a second,’ says McNamara. ‘So as soon as you are ready to shoot, the gun is ready to shoot.'”

A TriggerSmart readerboard inserted in a SIG pistol grip panel

But this raises a few questions.  What happens when the TriggerSmart malfunctions or the battery dies?  Will the officer’s sidearm be disable by default?  RFID is a non-secured, non-encrypted radio system.  Will the TriggerSmart be susceptible to jamming, or worse still, spoofing?  That is to say, how long before someone just up and makes a bracelet or ring that will activate police firearms?

By default, using commercial hardware and standards makes the TriggerSmart RFID system relatively simple and inexpensive.  But that also means it’s well-understood, open, and non-secure.  We definitely don’t want any law enforcement officers, here or anywhere, to have their sidearms turned against them.  But we aren’t positive this is the best way to go in preventing that, either.