Last week, a group of NYU students and faculty calling themselves Autonomous Ballistics, beat out five other teams to win a $1 million prize for their Smart gun design. While the competition urged the use of technology to increase gun safety, the minds at Autonomous Ballistics removed the firearm from the equation all together by creating a fingerprint reading, voice recognizing firearm holster. If brought to market, their design has the potential to save lives.
Last year, over 15,078 Americans lost their lives to firearms. While mass shootings and murders gain the majority of media attention, over a third of all firearm deaths are self inflicted, or accidental. Tragically, over 1,300 of these suicide victims are children.
Hoping to encourage innovation, Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough City President Adams created a Smart gun competition. The prize is $1 million.
Autonomous Ballistics, the winning team, is led by Tandon graduate Sy Cohen. Cohen worked alongside PhD student Ashwin Raj Kumar, Masters student Edilene Paola Cordero Pardo and graduate student Jonathan Ng.
The team designed the holster to fit a standard issue NYPD Glock 19 handgun. Holster security ranges from high to low confidence levels. At the high confidence level, the holster registers the user’s fingerprint. If unsuccessful, the holster will attempt to recognize the user through voice recognition and radio frequency. Should both of these steps fail, the holster uses a mechanical override to prevent the user from removing the firearms altogether.
Kumar said the team’s choice to create a holster came down to a matter of feasibility.
“The first thing everyone thinks is how do you stop the trigger from being fired, right?,” Kumar said. “So our first initial thoughts were to just stop the trigger from being fired. But eventually we figured out that the space inside the gun is so compact and the thing is if you are going to meddle with the gun, then our solution was not going to be a scalable one.”
The decision also came out of the one-on-one conversations Cohen and Kumar had with gun owners and police officers.
While many are receptive and open to additional safety, Kumar says gun owners do not want their weapons to be tampered with.
To get a better understanding of their design and of the people who this project would affect, the Autonomous Ballistics Team took a train to a New Jersey gun range. There, the NYU group spent the day firing a variety of pistols and rifles. It was the first time any of them had fired a gun.
“If we don’t know about the product then how can we design the product?,” Kumar said. “We realized that people who use the gun pretty regularly don’t want their gun to change in a single way.”
Brian Greco, a Gallatin senior and gun rights supporter said he supports the development of technology that improves gun safety, but is concerned that the device’s fingerprint reader may infringe on personal security. Greco also said he is against decreasing the accessibility of firearms.
“The more technological limits we place on people’s ability to use products the more chance for a ‘1984’ style of control over them,” Greco said.
Greco is not alone in his skepticism. Smart gun technologies have historically faced fierce opposition from gun manufacturers and gun lobbyist groups. Interest groups like the National Rifle Association have used legislation and even boycotts to stymie Smart gun technologies.
Despite a storied resistance from manufacturers, Kumar believes the Autonomous Ballistic design will work well with companies because it does not alter the way the gun functions.
“Even the gun industry is looking at safety options,” Kumar said. “They are just against changing their design.”
The team intends to use their $1 million prize to build prototypes and bring the device to the market. With the $1 million made out to NYU Tandon, Kumar said the team has yet to receive any information on how they will be able to access the funds.
If implemented properly, this device could save countless lives. Design and production, however, requires immense funding and will take time.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday Sept. 25 print edition. Email Mack DeGeurin at [email protected].