The guns that know who is firing them: Can smart tech make firearms safer?

CNN Labs explores the latest innovations around the world to showcase cutting-edge designs and groundbreaking research in science and technology.

Story highlights

Omer Kiyani shot as teenager, now developing smart gun technology

Smart guns can only be fired by authorized users

Smart tech Foundation offering $1 million in prizes for smart gun ideas

Some guns use fingerprint sensors, others use chip in owner's watch

CNN  — 

As a teenager, Omer Kiyani was shot in the face with an unsecured firearm. He still struggles with the trauma. But the Detroit engineer now believes he has created a device that would have saved him and may save thousands of others.

He calls it “Identilock,” and while it still needs final adjustments to the prototype and further investment, Kiyani expects to launch his smart gun technology in U.S. stores within a year, retailing for around $300.

The device attaches to the trigger of a handgun, which can then only be unlocked by biometric authentication, preventing any unauthorized user from firing the weapon. Drawing on breakthroughs in mobile technology, the trigger is released by similar fingerprint sensors to those used in Apple’s iPhone 5S. Those sensors are approved by the FBI, and widely found in security scanners.

“The key is reliability,” says Kiyani. “The sensor has proved itself in different sectors over the past few years and the market is aware of its capability.”

The gun is enabled in under a second from first contact, and engineers are chipping away to further reduce the time. Eventually, it is hoped the lock will be integrated and the release will be instant.

“The main point of firearms ownership is home defense, and home defense means quick access,” says Kiyani. “But the other side of that is accidents.”

The inventor believes his experience indicates an urgent and avoidable crisis and the statistics support him. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, 62 children aged one to 14 were killed in firearm accidents in the United States, and 785 from 1999 to 2010 – far higher death tolls than school shootings over the same period.