Living in a make believe world

“Smart guns” are not only a dumb idea but may be impossible with todays biometric technology.  Biometrics is something I studied and successfully researched for a different application.  I’m not a stranger to biometric technology.  New Jersey thinks they can find a solution for their “smart guns” but I think they are living in a make believe world.  Here’s what they have to say about their smart gun research:

The prototype, developed at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, has pressure sensors embedded in the gun handle that recognize a person’s unique grip.

The team says a commercial model is up to five years away, but if it works, it will trigger a singular – and controversial – state law. Within three years, all handguns sold in New Jersey would have to be personalized, with this or some other recognition technology.

Michael Recce, who dreamed up the grip-recognition concept in 1999, said the only obstacles are time and money. “It’s an engineering problem, not a scientific problem,” he said.

Inside the grip, 16 ceramic discs generate a charge when pressed. They are called piezoelectric sensors, from the Greek piezo, for “pressure.” Barbecue lighters use a similar feature.

Once the shooter squeezes the trigger, the grip sensors spring into action, recording the pressure for one-tenth of a second. In that moment, the pressure applied by each finger varies enough that engineers can distinguish between shooters with a high degree of reliability. A grip’s signature does not vary significantly from firing to firing, even in stressful situations, researchers have found.

A year and a half ago, a prototype recognized authorized users nine out of 10 times. Now, the rate lies between 95 and 99 percent, said Michael Cody, a computer science engineer on the team.

The goal: at least 99.95 percent – or good enough that the recognition process fails less often than a regular gun would jam or fail. A higher success rate will require better placement of the 16 sensors; currently, four or five do most of the work.

Recognition of the authorized users isn’t enough.  It must also reject unauthorized users.  It could be they are quoting the cross-over point where both the successful rejects and the successful accepts are the same.  It’s common to distill the performance down to a single number when in fact you will seldom run your biometric device at that point on the operating curve. 

Typically you will allow a much higher rate of failure for correct rejections that you will allow failure to accept correctly.  For example you might be perfectly happy the gun rejects 90% of the unauthorized users as long as it accepts correct users greater than 99.9% of the time.  I don’t know if it is the failure of the reporter to understand the subtleties of biometrics or if it is the failure of the engineers to understand the problem.  For the time being I’ll give the benefit of doubt to the engineers on that point.

What I seriously doubt is that Reece and his team have done is evaluate real stress and adverse shooting conditions.  What is the grip like when your hands are numb and swollen from the cold?  Or slippery with blood?  Or with gloves on?  Or after you have been stabbed and/or shot by your attacker(s)?  Add in shooting strong hand only, weak hand only, and with both hands and you have a very large set of variables that you can’t program into baseline template for the authorized user without allowing a very high percentage of random people to be able to shoot the gun as well.

I believe, short of nearly instant DNA analysis, biometrics cannot solve this problem.  And even if we had DNA sensors that could respond in milliseconds it wouldn’t solve the glove and other problems.  The “magic decoder ring” type of solution is the only thing I see as viable.

Recce estimated that his revolving team of graduate students and postdocs could develop a market-ready product in five years, and that a private company could do so in three.

Estimated cost: an additional $5 million. To date, the school has received $4.4 million in state and federal funds, said Donald H. Sebastian, a university senior vice president who oversees the research.

A 2005 study by a committee of the National Academy of Engineering was less optimistic, predicting that any of the various smart guns would need five to 10 years and $30 million.

The committee recognizes the problem is much, much bigger than Reece realizes or cares to admit. 

Keep spending NJ money.  That’s fine with me.  That’s less money they have to spend on enforcing their stupid and tyrannical gun laws.

3 thoughts on “Living in a make believe world

  1. “It’s an engineering problem, not a scientific problem,”

    More than either of those, it’s a marketing problem. Few gun enthusiasts are going to want a gun designed, essentially, by gun haters and clueless politicians. It’s the private market that keeps a company alive.

  2. Ahh… you capitalists are so simple minded. The socialists already have that covered. By government edict they require that three years after the first “smart gun” is commercially available all guns sold in the utopian paradise of the People’s Republic of New Jersey will be required to have the same or similar technology.


    As if the criminals will have any objections whatsoever to the type of restrictions the “good guys” handicap themselves with. And beyond that any “smart gun” will be easily converted to a “dumb gun” with a few tools and no more than a couple hours worth of work. Steal a “smart gun” and have it working for youself by the end of the day. Either by reprogramming it (this may be difficult if the gun is engineered correctly and the crypto keys are kept secure–which is unlikely) or by bypassing the smarts and hardwiring the mechanical actuator to your own switch/trigger (relatively easy in all cases).

  3. You mention crypto keys and my thoughts went: crypto, software, OS, Windows, blue screen of death.

    What an awful image.

    Seems to me that this tech has only one “benefit” to the buyer: You won’t have your own gun taken away from you and then used to shoot you. I plan to accomplish that by making sure the gun is empty before anyone takes it away from me; if I do that correctly the type of problems I’ll have really don’t center on whether or not someone else can shoot my gun.

    Maybe it is 15 years working as a mechanic/electonics tech and 10 years as a mechanical engineer limiting my imagination, but I don’t see how a gun could built such that I could not deactivate the system they are trying to build. Seems that most electronic “security” is worthless once you have uninterupted physical access to whatever is nominally being secured — at best it can only slow you down.

    It’ll be like back in ’74 when cars had to have the seat belt fastened in order to start: a little industry came into being to disable the “safe guard” that wasn’t (safe, that is).

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