Sunday, February 23, 2014

Armatix "review"

So, the whole internet, it seems, is talking about this new technology that will save countless lives with no down sides. It is the Armatix iP1 pistol. A lot of people are coming out on both sides of the issue. Not surprisingly "anti-gun" people want this to become mandatory safety equipment on all guns. In fact, New Jersey, at least, already has a law on the books requiring that all guns in the state must use this technology within three years of it becoming commercially available. Also not surprisingly, most gun owners do not want this technology.

So who's right and who's wrong? I thought I'd take an unbiased look. Well, to be fair, I should disclose that I do live in New Jersey and I do own a gun. On the other side of the equation I am a computer geek who loves new technology. So let's look at the objective factors and see where it gets us.

I think we can all agree we'd like to make guns safer. So let's look at numbers. There are an estimated 310,000,000 firearms in the US. The number of accidental deaths due to firearms in 2010 (according to the CDC) was 606. That's pretty darn good, considering there were over 35,332 deaths from car accidents that same year (again according to the CDC). That indicates to me that firearms are pretty safe already, much safer than cars.

In addition, legal firearms are used somewhere between 60,000 and 2,500,000 times a year to prevent a violent crime. The reasons for the uncertainty is that it depends on how you define using a gun and preventing a crime. Some would suggest the numbers are higher because if I scare away a would be attacker with a gun I'm not going to go report it. But let's take the lowest possible number, and round it.

Rounding, we have about 600 accidental deaths to avoid and 60,000 potential deaths to avoid. That means that any safety device which prevents a gun from firing unintentionally that also prevents it from firing when intended more than 1% of the time is not making it safer, but resulting in more loss of life. That's a pretty tight tolerance, and a fact which is at the forefront of concerns for people who may have to rely on a firearm to save their lives.

Rather than relying on news articles, I went straight to the Armatix web site to find out what this pistol does, and I discovered that the problems they are trying to solve and have solved are not really relevant to law enforcement or personal defense. Well, sort of.

First off, Armatix makes a whole system of gun security products. Their web site stresses the technological capabilities of their employees, but nowhere is there mention of firearms expertise. Most firearm product companies boast of that kind of experience. Not a problem, but just "odd". So let's look at their products.

The Quicklock is designed for shipping a gun such that it cannot be diverted and used by a third party. The lock consists of a device that inserts through the barrel into the chamber. Pulling it out without unlocking it mars the barrel, making the gun unusable. A very cool and useful product for shipping guns. This could also be used for long term storage, but a gun locked this way would not be in a position to fire in an emergency, as it would not have a round in the chamber. This is not an appropriate solution for a home defense weapon, though.

The Baselock is a similar system designed for multiple guns to be locked in a rack and unlocked simultaneously with a single keypad. I'm not sure what they were trying to achieve with this product, because if you look at the pictures, especially the ones showing it in use, the only exposed part of the gun is the trigger guard, and the gun is removed by pulling on that part of it. Yikes! Talk about dangerous. In most retention situations, the only part of the gun you absolutely want covered is the trigger guard, to prevent accidentally firing the gun when removing it. I would suggest redesigning it to cover the trigger guard area and leave the grip exposed.

The third product is the "Smart System." This consists of the iP1 semi-automatic pistol, iW1 active RFID watch, and TRS targeting system. This appears to be designed for target shooting only. The reason why I say this is that the TRS system is designed so that the gun will only function when aimed at a target. The gun cannot be used against people or other objects. There's no information on what indicates to the gun that it is on target, but there is a gun which cannot be used in self defense.

Assuming we purchase the iP1 gun without the TRS targeting system, we still have a .22LR pistol, which is not generally considered a usable round for self defense, due to its lack of stopping force. The gun costs $1399 and the watch required to operate it is sold separately for $399. So about $1800 for a gun that is nor useful for self defense. End of discussion.

But let's get past that and assume at some point down the road they make a 9mm version, or even a .45 version. Would it be safer?

Let's talk about existing technology. I can, today, buy a biometric or RFID controlled gun safe. With it I can keep my pistol loaded and ready, and with a touch of the RFID chip or finger have it in my hand ready to fire in seconds. While it is in the safe my kids can't get at it. I can program the device with multiple RFID chips or fingerprints so that my wife or adult children, who know how to use it responsibly, can access it.

Cost - This gun safe technology costs $200 and up. The gun safe can be used with any model gun, and a larger one can hold multiple guns. A reliable home defense gun can be had new for $350 and up. So if I want to have firearms available in multiple locations in my house I have to buy a separate gun and safe for each location, at a cost of $550 per location. The iW1 watch can be used with multiple iP1 pistols, so I only have to buy one. However, I have to purchase an iP1 for each location, at a cost of $400 + $1400 per location. But wait, there's more. If I want my wife and adult children to be able to use the gun for self defense in my home I need to buy more watches, at $400 per person in the household.

Access - The gun has safety features which it will take me time to activate, and which make it safe (right?), so this gun is not to be kept in a safe or case. Keeping it in a safe would add yet another layer of security to go through which would take time when seconds count. Therefore I can only assume this gun should be kept in a drawer. My kids will have access to the gun, and I rely 100% on the safety mechanisms built into the gun to keep them safe. The gun is made with sweeping lines and LEDs so it is very attractive to children, and looks somewhat like a toy. Attractive nuisance is the legal term, I believe. I'm sure kids will spend hours playing with the gun, pulling the trigger to watch the red LEDs light up.

Watch - The watch must be within 10" of the gun for it to fire, which means I need to buy wear the watch on my right hand. In fact, given that in a home defense scenario I might need to hold the gun in either hand, I need to wear two watches, so $800 per person, plus the annoyance of wearing a watch on the wrong hand, or wearing two watches. In fact, I'll want to be wearing these watches 24/7 because an intruder isn't going to wait for me to put on my watch. Oh, and if I like my existing watch, perhaps because it is a smart watch or has extra alarms or some feature, I have to wear yet another watch. Perhaps I should duct tape the watch to the grip of the gun...

Not only do I have to wear the watch, but before I use the gun I have to activate it by entering a 5 digit code on the watch. Doing so will enable the gun for 1 to 10 hours (which I can preset somehow). Pressing little buttons on my watch with my left hand is not something that will be easy for me to do in a high stress situation like realizing there is an intruder in my home. So perhaps I need to set an alarm every 10 hours to remind me to re-enable the watch so the gun is ready to go in an emergency.

Visibility - if I haven't made it through all these steps, my gun won't work, but I can still try to scare the bad buy away, since he doesn't know it, right? No, because the gun will have a cheery red LED glowing on it. Red or green, that LED will be shining toward my eyes, by the way, reducing my visibility in the darkened rooms of my house. and giving away my position to the bad guy.

Jammers - RFID jammers can be had for $200 and up. If (as New Jersey State law mandates) every home owner has to have an RFID activated gun, a criminal can buy (or steal) a jammer and walk into a home knowing that he has effectively disarmed the homeowner. The jammer's effective range is 30 meters, which is more than the effective range of the homeowner's handgun.

Hackers - one might assume that if the gun were stolen it would be useless without the watch. I have not seen a schematic of the gun, but I have to assume that, just like the "analog hole" in digital copyright protection, there is a place where one could bypass the circuitry involved and activate the gun directly by applying a voltage to a solenoid (or similar actuator), and then permanently fix the solenoid in the "active" position. After all, the interlock is mechanical at some point.

Disarmed - Now let's examine the other scenario that this gun is supposed to deal with. The bad guy has come into my house, rushed me, and is wrestling the gun away from me. Well, if I try to hold onto the gun, my watch is near it and it could shoot me. My only recourse is to throw the gun away, or give it to the bad guy, and try to stay out of range. At worst he will get close to me and when I raise my hands to defend myself the gun will activate and he will shoot me. At best, I have armed him with a metal club with which he can beat me to death.

Reliability - I haven't talked about the reliability of this technology, because there is no data on it. A lot of people are saying it would make their guns unreliable, and perhaps it will. But I have no knowledge of what kind of stress testing the system has been put through or what the results are, so I won't comment on it.

So in what way does this technology  make (already safe) guns safer than existing technology does? Have I completely missed something? I realize that some of these issues are due not to the technology itself but to a poor implementation. But from every angle I can see, there is no "problem" being solved that isn't already solved in a better way by existing technology. In other words, the technology in its present state would lead to more deaths, not fewer.


Just one more exampple of technology attempting to be applied to behavior and morality. Unfortunately, the bad guys don't follow the neatly defined suppositions of the scardy-cats who are afraid of all firearms. Fortunately, in the hands of a reasonably well trained citizen, a firearm without sophisticated trickery built in will be in a far better place to protect themselves or their loved ones. There are some things technology can't overcome and human behavior is but one of them.

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