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Featured Image Credit: Lodestar
A new type of ‘smart’ handgun which can be fired only by verified users is finally set to become available in the US later this year, after nearly two decades of development.
Four-year-old manufacturer LodeStar Works unveiled its 9mm smart handgun for shareholders and investors at an event in Boise, Idaho this week, alongside news that a Kansas company, SmartGunz LLC, have also started beta testing a similar model with law enforcement agencies in the region.
Both companies hope to have a product commercially available to consumers sometime in 2022.
The news follows two decades of questions about the reliability and practical application of smart guns and raises concerns that the move will usher in a new wave of government regulation.
Reuters reports that LodeStar co-founder Gareth Glaser had been inspired after hearing one too many stories about children being shot whilst playing with an unattended gun.
He claims that smart guns could prevent such tragedies by using technology to authenticate a user's identity and disable the gun should anyone else try to fire it.
They could also theoretically help to reduce people taking their own life, render lost or stolen guns useless, and offer safety for police officers and jail guards who fear gun grabs.
However, previous attempts to develop smart guns have been stalled - Smith & Wesson’s attempt to develop a similar product were hit with a boycott, a German company’s research was hacked in an assumed act of corporate espionage, and a New Jersey law aimed at promoting smart guns has earned the ire of Second Amendment activists in the US.
The LodeStar gun, aimed at first time buyers, is expected to retail at around $900 (£657).
Glaser acknowledged that large-scale manufacturing will prove to be an additional challenge, but expressed confidence that after years of trial and error the technology was advanced enough and the microelectronics inside the gun are well-protected.
Most early smart gun prototypes used either fingerprint unlocking or radio frequency identification technology that enables the gun to fire only when a chip in the gun communicates with another chip worn by the user in a ring or bracelet.
LodeStar has integrated both a fingerprint reader and a near-field communication chip activated by a phone app, plus a PIN pad. The gun can also be authorized for more than one user.
The fingerprint reader unlocks the gun in microseconds, but considering that it may not work when wet or in other adverse conditions, the PIN pad is there to act as a backup.
LodeStar did not demonstrate the near-field communication signal, but said that it would act as a secondary backup, enabling the gun as quickly as users can open the app on their phones.