Password-Protected Bullets

New invention, just patented:

Meyerle is patenting a design for a modified cartridge that would be fired by a burst of high-frequency radio energy. But the energy would only ignite the charge if a solid-state switch within the cartridge had been activated. This would only happen if a password entered into the gun using a tiny keypad matched one stored in the cartridge.

When they are sold, cartridges could be programmed with a password that matches the purchaser's gun. An owner could set the gun to request the password when it is reloaded, or to perform a biometric check before firing. The gun could also automatically lock itself after a pre-set period of time has passed since the password was entered.

Posted on June 30, 2006 at 6:41 AM • 59 Comments

Comments

ThomasJune 30, 2006 7:01 AM

Wow, this could be an interesting shoot-out.
Shootists with a too long or complicated password will come into trouble, I suspect ;)

bobJune 30, 2006 7:06 AM

Amazing, what an inappropriate use of technology. This would take getting a "blue screen of death" to a whole new level. I hope they subsidise them for purchase by criminals and terrorists; cops arent going to go anywhere near these things.

TOMBOTJune 30, 2006 7:08 AM

I have a better idea. Mount a retina scanner below the barrel. If the retina scan doesn't match the owner of the gun and bullets, it fires.

jeffJune 30, 2006 7:58 AM

@bob

For those of us that purchase guns for sporting purposes rather than self defense, having a security system in place to prevent accidental or unauthorized discharge seems to be a good idea. Its an open question whether the specific technology described in the article is appropriately designed (e.g., fails safe), but the goal shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

Jeff

@nonymou5June 30, 2006 8:10 AM

Hmmm, what trade-offs do we have?

1) Add extra cost to the firearm and ammunition to have a firearm that might not fire when I need it to do so.

2) Add complexity to a situation where I may need to react in a very short period of time.

3) Possible increase my safety if I was in a situation where the firearm would be removed from me and used against me.

Let's see if I am in a situation where the attacker can get physical possesion of my firearm then I am going to be harmed. The attacker may not use the bullets from my firearm but at this point the attacker could use any number of way to harm me. So the idea is to prevent the attacker from disarming me. Which would require me using a firearm that was proven reliable over time and have been reviewed by experts. The Colt 1911 style sidearm standard-issue handgun for the United States Armed Forces from 1911 to 1985.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colt_1911
A reliable firearm like the Colt 1911 is also very simple compared to the weapon described in the article. Hence what is the more secure weapon?

Does anyone have a solid set of trade offs to promote "Password-Protected Bullets" as more secure?

Also for "who" would "Password-Protected Bullets" be more secure.

coderpunkJune 30, 2006 8:27 AM

Jeff,

Obviously you have not completed a firearms training course. It is very easy to prevent accidents -

1. Don't point it at anything you don't want to destroy
2. Unload it.
3. Lock it up in your safe if you're so concerned that it may jump up and kill you.

Guns are machines, they obey some pretty simple rules.

And the sad thing is that it may be the cops that get these first. The politicians are always bringing up the rare case where a goon gets a gun away from a cop and shoots him with it. They'll use those stories as leverage to get the police force to adopt so called 'smart' guns. The only result will be more dead cops.

And don't forget - "An unloaded gun ain't nuttin but a rock. Don't bring one to a gun-fight."

.cp

Alfred ThompsonJune 30, 2006 8:29 AM

It seems silly to me. If you are only using the gun for target shooting normal practice is to lock the gun and ammo in different places. That is simple and reliable. Adding this whole password thing seems to be over complicated and create a firearm that is enherently less reliable and more expensive. If you want the gun for protection this "solutio" is way to complicated. The cost/benefit does not seem to be there.

swiss connectionJune 30, 2006 8:46 AM

Get Billy Gates to program the soft (firm-) ware, that way we can reduce the world population somewhat.

ChrisJune 30, 2006 9:06 AM

This looks like a technical solution to a people-problem.

From the article: "Safety catches do not always prevent firearm accidents and even newfangled biometric guns, which check the identity of a user by their fingerprint, cannot stop thieves from using stolen ammunition in other weapons."

As has already been pointed out, this is the injection of complex and untested technology into a situation where that is exactly not what you want. More technology is not always better -- if catches and biometrics don't work 100% of the time, obviously more technology is needed? Doubtful.

If the aim is prevent all firearm accidents, the only way to achive that would be the elimination of all firearms as no technology is perfect.

For now, let's assume the goal of the creator of this technology is not the complete prohibition on firearms. To achieve any meaningful benefit from this technology, society will require the wholesale recall of or ban on all weapons that do not *require* this type of ammunition. People with bad intent can always use traditional ammunition and traditional weapons unless such weapons are simply not available.

Assuming however, that all weapons were retrofitted to use this ammunition, preventing thieves from using "stolen ammunition" necessitates that each bullet or box of bullets would require a unique password. Are you going to be able to remember a non-trivial password to this bullet when your life depends on it? What about the next one? Or if your magazine contains bullets from multiple batches? Or if your partner hands you his ammunition? A sport shooter could tolerate such a burden perhaps, but an average citizen owning a gun for self-defense would be in possession of little better than a rock. Hell, I fumble for the bathroom lightswitch in the middle of the night and you want me to punch in some long code I haven't seen for months?

And will your weapon fire if your batteries are dead? This thing needs RF energy to work. Where's the power source for that? How long does it last and how do you replace/recharge it? Do you get a notification you can only fire 10 more rounds before your battery dies? What if your weapon is locked up and you don't check the batteries every month. We're supposed to check our smoke detectors once a month. Do you?

Further assuming that these problems are solved, there's still the larger problem of preventing "bad guys" from simply using traditional weapons and ammunition. If we can't prevent the importation and production of illegal drugs and counterfeit t-shirts, we can't prevent people from manufacturing what is in practice a simple device with well-known principles. There's been no meaningful advances to firearm technology, as far as most civilians are concerned, for more than a hundred years.

Frankly, this technology is a non-starter. There are far simpler ways to prevent gun thefts (a gun safe) and accidents (a gun safe, teaching children about firearm safety, storing weapons and ammunition separately, practicing with your weapons).

MSJune 30, 2006 9:14 AM

"You will pull the trigger with a lock on, and I'll pull the trigger. We'll see who wins."
Sammy "The Bull" Gravano - notorious gangster and hitman for John Gotti,

Doubting ThomasJune 30, 2006 9:35 AM

It's a shame that Phillip K. Dick hasn't written a story about this fifty years ago.

This would seem to rise "hacking" to a whole new level; that of murder without penalty.

I can't wait for the first conviction of an innocent person who had their password hacked or "discovered" through social engineering.

Just wear gloves and leave the gun in a trash can near the scene. To firm up the case a bit make sure the gun owner knows the victim and do the deed when the owner doesn't have a solid alibi.

Remember, guns and bullets don't kill people. People kill people. Safety and training cannot be substituted with passwords. Passwords restrict access, but do nothing to ensure proper use.

Such a device on your gun will almost guarantee that you will leave it lying around, loaded, waiting for your kids to start playing with it and typing in the dogs name in the password box.

Will I ever get a trojan horse on my computer? Naaa...I have a password!

Think about it.

FredJune 30, 2006 9:42 AM

Most of the comments seem to reflect the themes that were raised in the preceding article, about the interrelationship of security, economics, and technology.

Steve LintonJune 30, 2006 9:48 AM

This is just a patent land-grab. No one is going to implement it just as described. I can imagine a number of purposes where some cleaned-up version of this could be useful:

* hunting or target shooting where you don't have a safe handy

* police or military training,

Also if you extend the unlock time to maybe 8hours then it starts being useful for police work or personal protection -- if you lose the gun, or it is picked from your pocket, or it is stolen with/from your car or your home then it has a severely limited life for improper use.

bobJune 30, 2006 9:52 AM

Looks like a back-door way to ban guns to me - make infeasible, impractical or impossible technology mandatory.

Even if they somehow manage to stop importation (legal or other) of "traditional" (no hard drive required) firearms (and thats unlikely since they havent stopped illegal drugs in 100+ years of banning and $MAX_INT spent trying, not to mention they find firearms in maximum-security prisons where EVERYTHING is essentially banned) all it takes is about 10 hours in a machine shop to make one from scratch.

Before they implement this stuff, they should install a device on a traditional Glock 17 or similar where it keeps a record of whenever the gun is fired would it have been approved or prevented by this new technology. Give these special guns to dozens of police departments for free for several years to "field test". Then study the results. See how many "should have but didnt" and "shouldnt have but did" events would have occurred. Once the ratio of "worked right" to "oops" events drops to 10,000,000:1 get back to me, I might be interested.

AlanJune 30, 2006 10:57 AM

I can't wait until these things get hacked at Defcon.

Brings the term "War Driving" to a new level.

wyatt EarpJune 30, 2006 11:19 AM

this is an idiotic idea.. the prime safety in a firearm is in the brain housing group.

AnonymousJune 30, 2006 11:24 AM

"For those of us that purchase guns for sporting purposes rather than self defense, having a security system in place to prevent accidental or unauthorized discharge seems to be a good idea"

index finger?

JimboJune 30, 2006 11:35 AM

I could see using these in places where the odds of losing the gun were high but the rewards of having a gun handy were high.
In particular, a prison setting... at some facilities they confiscate the officer's gun at the front door. With this technology, you *could* carry it inside, and provide a tool to help deter escapes, although I'm uncertain that would be a bright application on balance.
Honestly, given the number of cops killed with their own weapons, it's NOT a bad idea, but you would need to get a 100% reliable and *INSTANTLY ACTIVE* biometric before I would want my son or daughter in law enforcement to be issued one of these.

another_bruceJune 30, 2006 11:37 AM

simplicity is a virtue in firearms, which is why i prefer manual firearms. a gun is something that absolutely has to work when you need it. i wouldn't be interested in a smart gun.
keep
it
simple
stupid.

@nonymou5June 30, 2006 11:37 AM

>Honestly, given the number of cops killed with their own weapons,

Please provide a statistic and the source for this statement. How many cops are killed with thier own weapon and in what situations?

paulJune 30, 2006 11:46 AM

If implemented somewhat differently, the idea of bullet that have to be activated by some kind of authority before firing makes all kinds of sense. Probably not by a password entered into the weapon in the heat of the moment, but imagine, for example, how nice it would be if thefts/diversions from arms shipments and armories didn't automatically produce usable weapons. Or if the owner of a weapon could broadcast (yes, this would take somewhat different technology) a revocation signal if the weapon were lost or stolen.

As for power requirements, if you can light a fire with the electrical charge from a pushbutton, you ought to be able to send out enough rf to tell a receiver circuit to fire...

Geezer 1911June 30, 2006 11:55 AM

All the arguments against complexity were argued a long time ago, except it was the invention of the revolver that was considered too complex to be reliable. The discussion here is about replacing the mechanical complexity that exists now, with electronic complexity.
That having been said, we're talking about a cartridge that is fired by a burst of RF energy? Anyone concerned about EMI?

DaveJune 30, 2006 12:10 PM

@bob

> cops arent going to go anywhere near these things

Of course not. Just like the laws about "junk" (i.e., affordable) guns, any law mandating this will not apply to cops. They (and of course criminals) will continue to be armed, while the honest citizens will be effectively disarmed. Same as any gun control scam....

> Looks like a back-door way to ban guns to me - make infeasible, impractical or impossible technology mandatory.

Yup, same as any of the "we need to mandate smart guns" scams....

@coderpunk

> it may be the cops that get these first

See above.

@jeff

> fails safe

Question is, what IS "safe"? Depends on circumstances. If it's stolen, or being handled by a kid who broke into grampa's gun cabinet, disabled. If you're defending your life, enabled. One size fits nobody.

@paul

> owner of a weapon could broadcast ... a revocation signal

If the good guys can, so can the bad guys.

John R CampbellJune 30, 2006 12:14 PM

While an interesting thought, has anyone considered that this is an example of "security theater" for those who've been lapping up stories of children who found their parents' gun(s)?

Also, consider what this does by making the gun cheap but the ammunition expensive-- so there's more of an income.

Let's not forget how this chops out people who re-load their own ammunition!

Adding this kind of complication as a "fail safe" is, perhaps, a misnomer; I can imagine that, when it fails, perhaps the wrong person is "safe".

Finally, imagine, if you will, the ability for the police (or those with the black helicopters) to jam these guns... and that the ability to jam the guns of the LE officers will happen as well.

(laughs)

"Guns work too easily and are too comprehensible to people who use- and misuse- them. Let's throw in some complications so we can make some bucks."

Pat CahalanJune 30, 2006 12:16 PM

If you read the whole article, there are many degrees of implementation.

You can have the ammo keyed to the gun, but the gun usable by anybody. This means that the ammo can only be used in the particular gun, nothing else.

You can have the ammo keyed to the gun, and a password set on the gun itself. This means that the ammo can only be used in the gun, and the gun can only be fired after being activated by the password. The complexities of the password mechanism and the authorization time out period are configurable.

You can have the ammo keyed to the gun, and biometrics on the gun. This means that the ammo can only be used in the gun, and the gun can only be fired if held by the authorized user. (yes, there are holes here, admittedly)

Sure, in lots of instances you don't care about any of these factors. If you're a recreational shooter, and you keep your gun at your gun club instead of at home, you're probably not going to waste time and money with this unless someone starts stealing ammo out of your locker at the club, in which case #1 might be helpful.

However there are instances where this could be useful. A little imagination would reveal lots of cases where being able to limit the usability of ammunition to a single weapon would be preferable, or even limit it to a class of weapons.

@ cp

Although firearms safety is pretty straightforward for a single user, if you keep your weapon somewhere where other people can gain access to it, firearms safety practices don't necessarily help you. Most gun owners that I know personally are very responsible, but just looking at the accidental gun deaths in the US indicates that a great many gun owners are boneheads.

From the journal of trauma:

"For every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides."

1:22 is a pretty bad sucess:failure ratio, statistically speaking. If you call the suicides "success" and not "failure" (which I suppose you could argue, assuming all incidences are the gun owner trying to kill himself and not someone using someone else's gun to kill himself/herself), that's still 12:11, which isn't stellar.

(disclaimer: I'm not a NRA member, but for the most part I find the gun control lobby to use questionable logic, and I'm not a gun control nut, either).

The reason I don't think this will come to much is that people who are good gun owners probably don't need this additional level of functionality, and bad gun owners won't buy it anyway, because they probably don't realize they're bad gun owners.

@ @nonymou5

I found an IEEE paper from 1994 citing an FBI report analyzing the years 1981-1990, showing that 12 officers per year are killed by others with their own weapon. Unfortunately, I can't link it (subscriber only), but the title is "Smart Gun Technologies: One Method Of Eliminating Unauthorized Firearm Use" (ISBN: 0-7803-1479-4).

I would imagine that rate has increased, but that's just a SWAG.

Pat CahalanJune 30, 2006 12:57 PM

Interesting, that would indicate a pretty extreme drop in "killed by their own weapon" incidences, from 12/year between 81-90 to less than 4/year between 95-06.

Guess my guess was inverse of reality :)

jmrJune 30, 2006 1:02 PM

@Pat, Regarding your 1:22 ratio.

This technology cannot prevent existing guns from not firing with existing ammunition. Therefore, your ratio is incorrect. The gun is firing "correctly" in 19 of the cases, and "incorrectly" in the 4 unintentional shootings. Of course, I don't advocate murder, armed robbery, assualt, etc., but the gun owner in question is authorizing the firing of the weapon in each case.

If I were a potential criminal who bought a gun, of course I'm going to authorize myself to shoot it. There will never be a replacement for the human mind when it comes to authorizing firing a gun.

And one must never forget that there is no possible way to mandate that all guns have some technology as described here. Making current inplementations illegal does not give any police department the right to search even "registered" gun owners' houses for illegal guns. Criminals who don't care about the law will simply ignore it. There are millions of guns out there, and it is impossible to track down any significant fraction of them, especially without completely disregarding the US Constitution.

Pat CahalanJune 30, 2006 1:11 PM

@ jmr

I wasn't using the 1:22 ratio to show efficacy of password-protected bullets, just to defend the "most gun owners are boneheads" statement. You're right, the trauma report I quoted doesn't include anywhere near enough information for us to guess how password protected bullets would change that ratio. Sorry, I wasn't clear :)

We don't know enough to know if the gun was properly authorized in any of those cases, actually. The unintentional shootings aren't defined -> I might fully intend to shoot someone, thinking they're an intruder, and shoot someone that isn't an intuder (that's "unintentional" under some definition, but I obviously intended to fire the weapon). On the other hand, a child may pick up my gun and accidentally shoot me, thinking I'm an intruder... that's also "unintentional", but "unauthorized".

jeoJune 30, 2006 1:25 PM

Since a few people have mentioned putting fingerprint biometrics, I guess I'll ask what happens of the owner's fingers are muddy. Or bloody, which might not be uncommon in situations where you're forced to defend your life from an attacker.

jayhJune 30, 2006 2:14 PM

@pat
"For every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides."

Something seems odd about those numbers.

Are "seven criminal assaults or homicides," somehow connected to those home weapons, or did they simply divide the number of criminal shootings by the number of defensive shootings?

Same thing for "there were four unintentional shootings".

Looks like lots of apploranges.


ChrisJune 30, 2006 2:26 PM

@Pat

The problem I have with your statistic is it leaves out the number of uses of firearms that don't include a discharge of the weapon. Intruders have been known to flee rather than confront an armed target. The mere sound of a shotgun shell being chambered scares off many intruders.

FBI statistics also omit these events. Often they go unreported and no framework exists to quantify them. Because no one requires medical care and no property is damaged, the number of times a weapon is simply presented in self-defense just isn't collected as a data point.

The 1:22 ratio is skewed by self-selection bias: only people who showed up for medical attention or post-mortem examination were studied.

Terry BrowningJune 30, 2006 2:50 PM

Who has the time to put a password or PIN into a gun before using it? People who create the situation such as "Sport" hunters, snipers, burglars, bank robbers, car jackers and the like.

Who doesn't? Those who are responding to a situation: home owners, security guards, the police.

A clever bit of tech, but a dumb idea.

Pat CahalanJune 30, 2006 3:00 PM

@ Chris, Jayh

Yes, the trauma study has holes. Again, I was using it to illustrate the point that many gun owners were irresponsible, not to attempt to quantify the efficacy of gun ownership as a crime deterrent or anything else.

It's difficult to quantify gun incidents that don't result in a weapon being discharged, because a meaningful count of such events is basically impossible (was the intruder scared away by the sound of the gun being loaded, or merely by the knowledge that there was an alert person in the house? No way to really tell without a control and experimental group and I don't imagine too many people would want to participate in such a study).

Personally, I doubt that "self-defense" is really a good reason for owning a gun. Examine the use case -> in order for a gun to be an effective self defense mechanism, you or your premises have to be targeted for a crime and you have to be present at the time the crime is being committed (if it is your premises being targeted). Further, you have to have physical possession of the weapon, and the perp has to know you have the gun and be intimidated by *it* in particular and flee, as opposed to being intimidated by *you* in particular, with or without a gun; *or* you have to have physical possession of the weapon, the weapon has to be prepared to fire, and you must deter the perp by shooting at (and inducing to flee), wounding (and inducing to flee), or killing said perp.

The likelihood of those events occuring seems very small, and in most of those cases you'll get an equal or more effective deterrence effect out of much simpler and safer methods... like owning a dog (which doesn't need to be loaded). Moreover, in any conflict situation adding a lethal force factor raises the likelihood of a serious outcome. I personally would rather have a burgler, suprised by me unarmed in my pajamas, pop me one and run away than create a scenario where his or her poor judgement leads to them attempting to wrest away a firearm and result in either of us getting fatally shot, or the gun discharging and wounding someone else entirely.

A gun is only an effective self-defense tool if you keep it loaded and handy, you're entirely committed to using it, and you're very well trained in its use. Keeping it loaded and handy astronomically increases the likelihood of an accident. Many people (soldiers included, who are very well prepared) find it psychologically difficult to shoot someone even when equipped to do so. Finally, even very well trained law enforcement officers who practice regularly don't always hit what they're aiming at.

I don't object to people who own guns because they like to shoot, but I think "self-defense" is a pretty bad reason to own a gun. Possible exception: you have a *very* elevated threat window (someone has credible reason to want to kill you, or you live in a lawless society).

Norman R AbramsJune 30, 2006 3:23 PM

Pat,
There's an NRA magazine called America's 1st Freedom, that every month excerpts at least six stories taken from newspapers around America where citizens have used a firearm in self defense. In most cases, the victim did not have the firearm on them but was able to retrieve it from where it was kept and often successfully use it to defend themselves.
In many of the stories it's the wife who retrieves the firearm and shoots the suspect, who is usually engaged in beating up the husband who is viewed as the bigger threat.
I think there's an underestimation of the state of mind of the people that commit these types of crimes, they aren't the thoughtful "Home Alone" burgler's, they are often drunk, high on drugs, or mentally disturbed individuals who are not fully "in" reality to begin with.

Nick LancasterJune 30, 2006 4:37 PM

Before Judge Dredd, the novel, "Logan's Run" had biometric identification on the Sandman's gun. Unauthorized access (i.e., holding the gun in a ready-to-fire position) would cause the gun to make a distinctive noise, and after x amount of time, the gun would explode.

But with this concept:

1. Where is the circuitry for the bullet? Inside the casing? Would that affect the ultimate velocity and performance of the bullet?

2. Is it possible to load these special bullets into a normal gun and have them fire? (Is the primer still accessible?)

3. Is the special gun incapable of firing un-modified ammunition?

Overall, this is going to be a standards issue - we wouldn't send troops into the field with these special guns, because they would then have finite ammunition supplies - no salvaging bullets. (Or, if the gun will fire normal, unmodded rounds, the security feature is next to useless.)

And there's something to be said for a mechanical safety on a mechanical object. It'd be ironic if someone picked up one of these guns, thinking it's safe ... and the system fails. (Fail badly = fire, fail safe = does not fire.)

AnonymousJune 30, 2006 4:40 PM

@ Norman

I don't dispute that. Six stories a month, out of a population of 260 million (with approximately 40% gun ownership, see http://www.newkerala.com/news2.php?... is not significant. It isn't significant even if the NRA is publishing *one out of every 100,000* stories about gun deterrence, if 104 million people have access to a gun - do the math.

I'm not saying that there aren't incidents of guns being an effective deterrent, I'm saying that the frequency of those incidents does not warrant anything resembling significant risk in a risk assessment. Purchasing a gun for the purposes of self-defense is bad risk assessment, period.

JosephJune 30, 2006 4:52 PM

I work with cops every day. Most of the people that have posted concerns about this technology have well-founded arguments, but their idea that cops will not like these are idiotic.

All the cops that I work with would love one of these. Trust me, in ten years there is going to be a large market for "secure guns" of some type or another.

Don't automatically assume that you understand what cops think unless you work with them often-

paulJune 30, 2006 5:08 PM

Do we have any idea what the cartridge for this kind of thing would look like? Seems to me that properly designed it would be almost indefinitely reloadable, in which case you could put a fair amount of computing power into it. I'd like to think that for many kinds of warfare it would be really nice to know that the enemy couldn't fire your discarded/abandoned weapons and ammunition. In earlier times retreating forces would spike nonportable artillery for just that reason, for example.

GreggLJune 30, 2006 6:23 PM

"If implemented somewhat differently, the idea of bullet that have to be activated by some kind of authority before firing makes all kinds of sense. Probably not by a password entered into the weapon in the heat of the moment, but imagine, for example, how nice it would be if thefts/diversions from arms shipments and armories didn't automatically produce usable weapons. Or if the owner of a weapon could broadcast (yes, this would take somewhat different technology) a revocation signal if the weapon were lost or stolen."

Honestly this is a very bad idea. Technology whenever used in place of responsibility is a very bad idea. Simply put, There is no substitute for common sense and good training on safety. Now the question of sending out a signal to disable the weapon or the ammunition is a real clincher. For this system to be effective it requires a way to keep it secure from unauthorized parties. In short, Digital signing is the only way to accomplish this. That would make it possible to send out an authenticated disarm message that the weapon/ammunition accepts as being valid and authoritative. The gaping problem with this is now the mechanism to verify the authenticity of a particular user of said weapon at the time it is needed. If there is no connectivity, then the weapon will not function. Or if default behavior is the opposite, then all that is needed is to sever its connectivity and you have a working weapon once again. An even worse failure mode would be to take out the entire authentication/signing authority structure and now you have disabled all weapons which use this system.

There are too many things to break! There is also built in failure modes if no exceptions are allowed. If exceptions are allowed, then you have security holes in the security scheme. Either way this one looks like a loser to me. From an implementation perspective there is no one configuration which does not produce undesirable failure modes.

BjornJune 30, 2006 6:50 PM

No no, here guys. Lets just implant a chip in someone's brain that authorizes and triggers the gun at the same time! Completely fail-safe *cough* and completely logical and simple to complete. Make sure you encrypt the burst. We don't want it to be hackable...

Nick LancasterJune 30, 2006 8:29 PM

Hmm. So if I can send the proper signal to the bullet, will all of the shells in the magazine cook off at once?

(Oh, right. Of *course* we'll have shielded magazines and holsters to prevent this.)

We've got people who can't program the clock on their microwave oven. How are we going to make password-controlled weapons *with a keypad on the handgrip* effective? Answer: compromise the security of the password by making it 'easy' - 1111, or even the owner's badge number.

Also, an officer cannot use another officer's weapon, unless there is a shared password or 'root' password. The shotgun/rifle kept in a bracket in a patrol car would either have a single password (again, something 'easy' like the patrol car number is essentially useless), or a 'shared' password that works for the guns of both officers.

It just keeps looking like 'safety theater' - a feature that promises safety, but offers very little safety in practical, everyday use.

And does it even pass the 'something you have / something you are / something you know' test?

If it's just a biometric, then it doesn't. If it's just a password, it doesn't.

If it's a badge with an RFID, plus a biometric or password, then it does.

DMJune 30, 2006 9:16 PM

The constitution says "right to bear arms", but it doesnt say anything about ammunition does it?

I say outlaw the ammunition and let the guns turn to dust.

nbk2000June 30, 2006 11:09 PM

If it's electronically operated, then it's subject to ECM.

If there's a chip required to operate the thing, that chip can be destroyed through HERF or EMP.

Wireless is subject to jamming, interception, replay, Man-in-the-middle, etc.

Technically savvy criminals or *gasp!* terrorists could possibly operate jammers in their area that would disarm the responders with their digital 'smart' guns, while the criminals are using perfectly functional 'analog' guns.

If your life, or the lives of others, are depending on something working first time, every time, you can't afford to risk someone being able to FUBAR your equipment through some technical hack.

AnonymousJune 30, 2006 11:34 PM

The tough thing about gun control is it doesn't work at solving crime. Japan tried this- people use knives and clubs and all kinds of other things. By extension, we see the same thing in India, Pakistan and North Korea with the bomb. You tell everyone "you can't have this" but then wonder what to do when someone goes ahead and gets one anyway. How does the citizenry react when a criminal has a gun and they don't? Call the cops. Great; and in the two minutes it takes (at best!) for them to arrive, the criminal has started killing.
Guns are the great social equalizer. With no other tool can the weak hold an attacker at bay quite so decisively. Best to leave them uncomplicated.

@nonymou5July 1, 2006 12:30 AM

@ Geezer 1911

>...it was the invention of the revolver that was considered too complex to be reliable.

See thsi article about Samuel Colt.
http://www.colt.com/mil/history.asp

As per this article and others I have read like it the problem with the first revolvers were a lack of standard parts. So each revolver was hand made and not interchangeable. Hence some of the firearms did not perform as well as others. Hence the problem was not because of design it was a manufacturing problem.

In fact in 1845 the Texas Rangers believed in the reliability of the Patterson (Colt) revolver so much that it's part of the reason we have a company named Colt Defense today (read the URL for th whole story).

But the RF firearm proposes a different problem.
It IS a design problem. It is a firearm that attempts to prevent the primary purpose of a firearm. This undeniably adds complexity. Complexity does not help in matters of security. This is compounded in a situation where the gun is required to just work in a very short amount of time. Hence I would not bet my life on this gun when other well tested, combat proven solutions already exsist.

TankJuly 1, 2006 8:22 AM

Maybe one day when this patent materialises into a product someone can do a comparison between this access prevention mechanism and that of a common wall safe of the same purchase value.

The safe will of course already be streets ahead by offering all calibers, gun brands, gun designs, ammo available in 100% of stores instead of 0%, etc, etc, etc, but perhaps they have achieved some groundbreaking level of access security using a keypad and RFID that a few hundred years of safe design haven't yet achieved.

solinymJuly 1, 2006 6:43 PM

This is not the first security system on an electronically-activated gun. On the Discovery Channel, there was a show about "weapons of the future", and one of the devices was an electronic pistol which was keyed by a bracelet worn on the wrist of the authorized user. The idea was that if it was too far from the bracelet, it wouldn't work, so could be useful to law enforcement (or anyone) to prevent their guns from being used against them, should they be taken from them (either before hostilities, or during some kind of struggle). The company that made it I believe was an Australian company, and they also make a product called "metal storm". Both products use a special caseless cartridge, and stack the bullets in the barrel. They are electronically ignited, starting with the bullet closest to the end of the barrel, so there's no clip. In "metal storm", they have them set up basically like mortars, and use them as an area defense system --- it's similar to a minefield, except that the technician with the laptop connected to it can choose to NOT trigger them, unlike land mines.

It's too bad land mines don't have some kind of long-running timer that causes them to become inert or detonate after several years; that would sure save a lot of limbs worldwide. Another idea is to have them deactivate or detonate via some kind of cryptographically authenticated signal, which could be broadcast by aircraft after the hostilities are over. Sadly, I doubt any of these things will ever get done.

MJuly 1, 2006 10:21 PM

Electronically fired ammunition has been around for years so that aspect is not new. Look at "www.metalstorm.com" if you want to see an explanation of one implementation of it. It is mainly used with larger caliber weapons so far, although is has been demonstrated on small caliber ammunition (which was used as a lower cost development platform for larger caliber weapons).

Something the article is not very clear on is what problem "keying" the ammunition to the gun is supposed to solve. At best, it would make it difficult to obtain new ammunition for a stolen gun, as the thief wouldn't know the password for the gun and so wouldn't know how to "authorise" the new ammunition. Whether criminals really use more ammunition than they can steal with a particular gun is however questionable.

As for "solinym's" remarks on landmines, command controlled mines have been around for a long time, but only for the larger more expensive sea and anti-tank mines rather than for cheap anti-personnel mines. Command controlled mines exist because there are tactical advantages in some applications to being able to control when your mines are active.

Anti-personel mines are a different story. These are very simple and cheap devices intended to be manufactured on a large scale. What made modern landmines the problem that they are is that they are so cheap they can be used on a very large scale at low cost to make large areas of land uninhabitable. It is the scale of their use that distinguishes them from hand made improvised bombs. Some of the less cheap ones theoretically have a deactivation mechanism that operates after a certain time period, but in practice these deactivation mechanisms are so unrealiable as to be little more than a fig leaf to try to make them appear more acceptable. Most mines moreover are intended to be sown in fields with no definite "expiry date", so deactivation ability simply isn't a criteria for them.

All countries except a very small handful have addressed this problem by simply banning the manufacture or use of anti-personnel landmines. Modern armies travel in armoured vehicles, so the primary target of small anti-personnel landmines is the civilian population, not soldiers.


Filias CupioJuly 2, 2006 6:33 PM

Like others, I think this is a solution in search of a problem. The only real benefit I could see was that stolen bullets would be of no use to the thief. Even if there were no cost differential, in most circumstances this benefit would not outweigh the added complexity.

Some people have raised the issue of possible EM attacks against the bullets. I don't think this is much of an issue:
The bullet is fired by very high intensity radio burst delivered from a range of a few mm. It would be very hard to deliver this from a distance, and even harder as the bullet is shielded by a metal ammutition clip or gun. (Note this argument is independent to the whole crypto side of things.)
Again, the crypto-enabling/disabling of the bullets would be designed for very close proximities in a well-shielded environment (inside a gun.) It would be very hard to jam the signals. If you knew the key, there is opportunity to remotely enable (not fire) the bullets in someones pocket.
Depending on the protocols, you might be able to disable the ammuntion. So if you know the key, and have a big antenna to point at your opponent, you can make it so once they've emptied their clip at you and reload, the reload bullets won't fire.

jJuly 3, 2006 12:01 PM

Guns keyed to a user by some sort of automatic ID as in biometrics? A. E. van Vogt, "The Weapon Shops of Isher" (1949, which includes "The Weapon Shops" from 1942).

bunk i thinkJuly 6, 2006 1:32 AM

At $65.00 a shot that will make you think very hard before shooting.

And $4,500.00 for the gun.

BrandonJuly 6, 2006 11:58 AM

I do appreciate the comments of "Guns don't kill people. People kill people" but its the others in this country who can't think of anything but a safer life without firearms.

Firearms are safe tools, just like automobiles. It's when the jackass in control of said tool decides to operate it outside any moral control.

With that in mind, I'm anticipating a time when "gun control" as we know it is no longer the issue. It will have transformed into "ammunition control" with weapons that refuse to fire "unauthorized" ammo either via an RFID chip or some other form of ID.

Leave as many guns in the world as you want, once you control how many times a weapon can fired you will have effectively controlled firearms. The article referenced is a baby step in this direction unfortunately...

"I think every bullet should cost 5,000 dollars. Because if a bullet cost five thousand dollars, we wouldn't have any innocent bystanders." - Chris Rock

jlbraunJuly 6, 2006 3:16 PM

(ahem)

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!

Gun-grabbers HAVE ALREADY USED the tactic of "require a technogically infeasible feature on firearms" in order to create a de facto ban. Look at California.

THIS IS NOT A SAFETY MEASURE, IT IS A PEOPLE-CONTROL MEASURE. IT IS NOT REASONABLE, PRACTICABLE, OR ECONOMICAL. ITS GOAL IS TO MAKE THE PRIVATE OWNERSHIP OF FIREARMS IMPOSSIBLE.

Geeks like us tend to be seduced by tech for its own sake. Remember that this infatuation means that people can make you fall in love with a horrible, rights-infringing control mechanism by preceding it with "hyper-internet-Web2.0 Google-P2P-bittorrent-linux-nanotech-for the-children!"

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