Business Unusual

Two high tech weapons, one guaranteed to kill and one guaranteed it won't

There are few things that will not be affected by new technology.

A gun may seem like one of the last.

It is true that firing a bullet is inherently a mechanical action, but the ability to fire it and its accuracy are becoming digital.

Smart guns

It is a bad use of the word "smart" in that these guns are no better at firing than before, the smart tag relates to who gets to pull the trigger.

User identifying guns are configured to allow only designated users to fire them. There are three main types being developed.

  • A version that uses a wearable like a strap, ring or similar device to be in close range of the gun to allow it to work. The owner could leave the gun in the open, even loaded but it would not fire unless they were close enough to hold it. The benefits are that it is a proven system and it uses little battery power, the downside is that anyone with the wearable can use the weapon.

  • Fingerprint options. As fingerprint readers improve thanks to mobile phone security the option to add the same to weapons should not add much cost while still maintaining effectiveness. The reader can be programmed to recognised more than one set of prints so the gun will work when used by adults, but not the children in the home. The downside is that, if stolen, they could be reset to accept a new user. However, the primary reason is to prevent children accidentally firing the weapon. The maker of the Biofire handgun is 19-year-old Kai Kloepher who started developing it when he was 15.

  • Implants. While the potential value of an implant for a wide range of uses exists, the idea remains unpopular with many. The weapon in this case would work in a similar way as a wearable, requiring the weapon to be at close range. You would always have the implant with you and, as they have no battery, would be very reliable. You could also authorise more than one implant allowing adults in the family to use the weapon, but not the children. The implant could be configured for any other access authorisation like door locks or phone functioning.

While the initial reason for creating these weapons was to reduce the risk in homes, and to limit the use of stolen guns, the benefits of a user-only weapon would also apply to law enforcement.

Bizarrely, in the US where much of the development is underway, the gun lobby is not in favour of its adoption.

They cite two reasons: the technology could fail and it would lead to regulators requiring everyone to use them.

The technology initially may have reliability issues, but in a short period that may be no more of a concern than a gun jam.

It is likely though that if the technology can prove itself and reduce accidental firing and theft that regulations may change to require their use although I don’t understand why that is a bad thing.

Laser guided rifles

Anyone can fire a weapon (assuming it is not one of the “smart” ones mentioned above), but hitting your target is not that easy.

If that target is some distance away or moving; you are more likely to miss, despite what Hollywood may have led you to believe.

Shooting is a skill, it takes practice and technique. Hunting might be far easier with a rifle but just because you have one does not mean you will make the kill and certainly not a clean kill.

That was apparently the reason a technology funder out shooting thought the world needed a more accurate gun.

The idea was to build a clever scope that would use a laser to determine distance, The scope would also allow for info about wind speed, air pressure and the calibre bullet to be added to calculate the perfect trajectory.

The shooter would first mark the centre of the intended target with laser mark, before pulling the trigger. The rifle would not fire when the trigger was pulled but only when the rifle was moved back over the exact spot that was targeted at which point it would fire.

Founded in 2011, the first models went on sale in 2013. The initial response was very positive. Tracking Point looked like it would pick up significant business with hunters and should be of interest for law enforcement and the military.

After rapid growth and reportedly some very tough deadlines to solve some major challenges the company looked like it may close its doors. It has since appeared to overcome the technical and business challenges while drawing more interest from large customers like the police and the military.

The guns are apparently so good that a soldier that lost his sight in battle is still able to hunt using the weapon. And that is part of the central criticism of it. If anyone could fire the perfect shot; where is the skill? It would be like playing a game of golf with you guaranteed to make every putt.

The company argues that a clean kill by a novice hunter is better than a maimed animal and that with greater accuracy allows the hunt to take place from a greater distance.

In civilian or war settings, having a sniper hit a military target could save lives of civilians or deal with a hostage situation while reducing the potential error for hitting a hostage.

In the wrong hands the opposite is also true and while the weapons are expensive (above R100 000), they are not so expensive to deter someone intent on getting one.

It remains to be seem what happens with the technology although even if the current companies do fold, they will be replaced by others who will address the issues.

The greater challenge is how to deal with the ethical questions they raise. This is common with disruption, the status quo is not only affected by the new tech, but by the new moral dilemmas they raise.


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