Researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology advise that the next generation of biometric-equipped smart guns is as little as two years away from being fully mature.
These guns would use Dynamic Grip Recognition, which is a series of electronic sensors and microchips housed inside the grip of the handgun. These piezoelectric sensors record the user’s grip signature, which then either allows or disallows access to the trigger package.
“The way that you are applying pressure is a combination both of your musculature and the way your brain is trained to pull back on the trigger,” Dr. Donald H. Sebastian, senior vice president for research and development at NJIT, told Guns.com Thursday. “And that is both individual and reproducible.”
Sebastian equates the science behind grip biometrics to the same as in vocal recognition, in which muscle groups can be self-identifying even if attempts are made to try to mask them.
“There is an underlying characteristic there,” Sebastian explained. “It doesn’t matter if you are squeezing hard or in a relaxed position. It doesn’t matter if the user has a glove or not a glove. We have evaluated a number of different positions and what we are seeing is that it is unique and identifiable.
NJIT has been working on DGR since 1999, with the technology behind it invented by Michael Recce, then an associate professor of information systems at NJIT. The funding for this research initially came from the state of New Jersey but since 2004, NJIT has received more than $2. 5 million in congressionally directed funds from the National Institute of Justice and another $1.5 million from the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
As such, the DGR technology is a forerunner in the burgeoning so-called ‘smart-gun‘ movement. This breed of firearm would ideally prevent all unauthorized users from firing the gun. However, a 2002 New Jersey law sets an arbitrary mandate that would require sole adoption of these personalized handguns within three years of them becoming commercially available. Notably, the Garden State also enacted legislation that exempts its law enforcement officers from being forced to issue smart guns for duty use.
NJIT has been working in conjunction with the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center and the Joint Service Small Arms Program in Picatinny, New Jersey, and as such has used the military-standard Beretta M9 pistol for their test bed. Although Sebastian pointed out to Guns.com that “Beretta is publicly opposed to smart guns and was never a sponsor.”
Currently the five test platforms are based on SIG pistols, on advice “from ARDEC partners and without direct involvement from SIG.”
While early generations of the gun used a large external processor box with wired connections, the current version is all onboard and contained inside the handgun. This is a departure from the controversial two-part RFID smart guns such as the Armatix iP1, which uses a companion watch to be able to fire.
Besides invoking mandates such as New Jersey’s, a primary concern on smart gun technology is one of reliability. The National Shooting Sports Foundation conducted a national scientific poll of more than 1,200 Americans in October 2013 on the technology. The results found that roughly three-quarters stated they would not buy a smart gun, would not trust the reliability of one, and that the government should not mandate such technology.
”No technology is foolproof,” said Nancy Ross, representative for the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs. “Anyone who has a computer knows how many times it crashes.”
To answer that concern, NJIT had by 2005 reported that they were getting 90 percent reliability when scanning users in a controlled environment.
Currently, Sebastian advises that they are “well over 99 percent” with a range of users. He cautions that the technology could be fined tuned to be more sensitive to false positives, where an unknown user can successfully fire the gun, or a false negative, where a known user is locked out. Using that, he believes that they can diminish the failure to between 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000.
As far as projecting when the technology would be closer to being mature, Sebastian thinks that DGR could be commercially viable by sometime in 2016.
“I believe that we would need a good year of end-user tests and evaluations to put that into another cycle of improving the technology. I’m thinking at the earliest it’s about two years until we have something that’s ready for commercial introduction,” he said.
The ultimate goal of Sebastian’s team is to produce the technology that is not dependent on a single firearm system.
“Our objective is to produce platform neutral technology that can ultimately take form as an aftermarket conversion of standard weapons as well as be incorporated by OEMs into new designs and we are not relying on any product-specific features.”