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News and notes on guns in America

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[NYU Tandon School of Engineering ]

This Million-Dollar Smart-Gun Idea Isn’t a Gun At All

Brooklyn’s Smart Gun Design Competition has a winner — and it’s not a smart gun.

Autonomous Ballistics, a team from New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, received a $1 million prize on Monday for its design of a smart holster, engineered to release a firearm only to an authenticated user using one of three methods: a fingerprint reader, a radio-frequency identification chip (RFID), or voice recognition.

The contest, funded by Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams was announced last August. Judges, including officials from the New York Police Department, reviewed dozens of designs before settling on five finalists from local colleges and universities.

That the winning design is an accessory, not a firearm, could help it overcome the years of stigma associated with smart guns. Since their development in the 1990s, smart guns have been widely criticized for a perceived lack of reliability and a vulnerability to hacking.

Devices that keep normally functioning guns secure, and use biometric technology like fingerprint readers, have been around for years. Biometric gun safes are commonplace in gun companies’ marketing materials. Biometric gun locks are also widely available. The National Rifle Association even licenses its name and logo to one such company.

What makes Autonomous Ballistics’ design different is that it is a biometrically triggered safe that can be worn while carrying in public, not just used to store a gun in a home or car. The holster’s three unlocking mechanisms mean the gun owner has a backup if the fingerprint reader is dirty or the firing hand gloved, the RFID key out of range, or the ambient noise is too loud — or the self-defense scenario too risky — for voice recognition.

Syd Cohen, a member of Autonomous Ballistics, told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that his team’s design should also appeal to firearms enthusiasts because “[you] don’t have to change your gun at all” to secure it in the holster.

Just as crucially, the holster would not qualify as a smart gun under an infamous New Jersey law that sparked a backlash which has kept many dealers from stocking the weapons.