Large Scale Smart Weapons Design Challenge Winners Are Afraid To Go Out Publicly


Design challenges are common in Silicon Valley. Tackling burning political issues is not.

Some recipients of a high profile contest for “smart gun” designs refuse to allow themselves to be announced publicly, The edge learned, fearing a backlash from gun rights activists.

A smart pistol is a computer-enhanced weapon that authenticates users before allowing them to fire. Smart weapons can rely on biometric data such as a fingerprint, voice print, or the unique way the user grips the weapon. They may also require a password or the proximity of another device, such as a bracelet.

Proponents say the implementation of this technology will reduce gun violence, especially one that involves children getting their hands on their parents’ guns.

The Smart Tech Challenges Foundation, a Silicon Valley-based organization created in 2013 to fund smart weapons research, announced its $ 1 million competition in January. “We need the gun iPhone,” Silicon Valley investor Ron Conway, who supports the challenge, said at the time. Conway supported gun control reform after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, supporting a number of anti-gun violence initiatives and encouraging other members of the tech community to do the same.

No smart weapon has been sold in the United States

The Foundation received more than 200 nominations and, by June, it had selected 15 laureates. But so far only one winner has been announced: Kai Kloepfer, 17, who has designed a fingerprint scanner that fits over a pistol grip and requires user authentication in order to shoot. Kloepfer received $ 50,000, which was announced yesterday.

Other winners will be announced, according to the Foundation, but some have requested that their names not be released due to the controversy surrounding the issue.

“All of the grantees have been selected, but as you can imagine they are to varying degrees comfortable with public exposure,” said a representative from the Smart Tech Foundation. The edge. “Some have requested to remain almost anonymous due to the negative backlash they may face. We will therefore be announcing recipients on an ongoing basis in an effort to protect some innovators and highlight others.”

The reaction to Kloepfer’s invention has been positive so far, but the debate over smart weapons has been heated in the recent past.

Gun enthusiasts say smart guns will fail when you need them

In May, a Maryland gun store announced that it would start stocking the Armatix iP1, which only fires if it is within 10 inches of its iW1 companion watch (presumably on the owner’s wrist) . It can also be deactivated with a timer or a PIN code.

The backlash was immediate. The owner has received a flood of complaints, angry rants, calls to boycott his shop and even two death threats. Within 24 hours, he announced that the store would no longer stock the smart gun.

Gun enthusiasts fear that the government will require guns to be equipped with this type of technology, which they say infringes on their rights. Smart weapons introduce an element that could fail when you need it most, opponents say, and they can encourage states to collect biometric data on all gun owners. “Gun enthusiasts would resist this technology until it was cold and indiscreet to handguns,” the blog writes. The truth about guns.

Some gun control advocates also oppose the smart gun

Functional smart weapons already exist, but none have yet been sold in the United States, largely due to pressure from gun advocates. One of the problems is a strict New Jersey gun law signed in 2002, known as the Childproof Handgun Law, which states that all guns sold in New Jersey must be approved smart guns. State within three years of selling a smart weapon anywhere in the country. If Raymond had sold an Armatix iP1 to a customer, that would have triggered the clause.

Some gun control advocates are also opposed to the smart gun. Smart weapons would prevent only a tiny fraction of violent incidents, according to the Violence Policy Center. Also, there are so many dumb guns that it would be impossible for the smart gun to replace all of them.

The merits of the smart gun – and consumer demand for it – may be limited, but the vitriol around the issue has grown excessive. Belinda Padilla, Marketing Manager at Armatix is regularly harassed by gun rights advocates and has recently been lying low because of threats. In other words, the winners of the Smart Weapons Challenge are probably right to fear harassment.

UPDATE: After posting, the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation has contacted the Verge to state their intention to announce all of the contest winners. His statement is below.

The Smart Tech Challenges Foundation was delighted today to help shine the spotlight on 17-year-old Kai Kloepfer, the first of many featured innovators to be publicly recognized for his innovation in gun safety. We are proud to support our beneficiaries as they make progress in improving the reliability of their technologies. We look forward to bringing these innovators to you, both in the media and on our website at, throughout the duration of the Smart Tech for Firearms Challenge and beyond.

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