Applying Biometrics to Make Guns Safer: Kai Kloepfer at TEDxMileHigh (Transcript)

I just want to start off saying that I’ve always been an engineer. I honestly blame my parents for that. They got me started from a young age, and it just kind of stuck. It started with the LEGO robotics camps, and by the time I was in fourth grade, I was working on basic circuits on a bread board In 6th grade, I decided I wanted to major in electrical engineering and create a remote controlled blimp. In 7th grade, I taught myself how to use a circuit board design program and created my first printed circuit board. Let’s fast-forward to the middle of 2012 however, when I’m in 10th grade and looking for my next science fair project.

I had gone through my brainstorming process, and by the end of it, I was kind of stuck on one idea: the Aurora theater shooting. Living in Colorado, the Aurora theater shooting had happened just a short drive away from my house, less than a month and a half previously, and it was still something that was very much in everybody’s minds. And so, I set out to do something about the problem of mass shootings. However, as I started to do a little bit more research, I realized that mass shootings might not be the biggest problem; there might be something else behind it. Let’s go through some of the statistics I discovered real quick.

Every 30 minutes in the United States, a child dies or injured by a firearm. The number of preschoolers who die from firearms every year is nearly double the number of law enforcement officers who die in that same time period. Ten percent of law enforcement officers who die from firearms are killed by their own firearm because they’re disarmed and then shot. Most horrifying of all is that the total of number of children and teens killed by firearms is two and a half times the total number of US military casualties for the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars combined. That’s a problem.

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After realizing this, I switched focus from trying to prevent mass shootings to working on preventing general negligent and unauthorized firearm use. I spent the next two years developing a solution. Let’s talk about it.

At a very high level, this solution allows only the owner or people that the owner chooses to use their firearm. It does this through use of a capacitive imaging fingerprint sensor. This is not the kind of fingerprint sensor that you just have to swipe five times on your laptop to get it unlocked, but this is a far superior technology that allows you to just place your finger on the sensor and have it be read. Once the system has recognized your fingerprint, it then uses a mechanical locking system to unlock the firearm and make it ready for use. This entire process is controlled by a printed circuit board and the electrical system residing on it.

There are a couple of main applications and main markets for this technology. The first of which is people who have or want to have firearms in their house. However, having firearms around children can be very dangerous. A firearm equipped with this technology would be significantly safer to have in the house, because even if the child does get a hand on the firearm, it’s not useful. Another less obvious benefit is seeing if that homeowner ever has to use that firearm for defense.

Most homeowners are very responsible about their firearms. They take classes to learn how to use them properly. However, target shooting is very different from actually using a firearm in a stressful situation, and many homeowners don’t have the combat training to know how to keep hold of the firearm once they have it out. However, with this technology, within a second, if they are disarmed by an assailant, within a second, the system is locked and the firearm is completely unusable.

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The second main application is making our law enforcement and military safer. The system allows multiple users to be registered to one firearm and multiple firearms to be registered to one user. This means that we can have a group of soldiers, say 15, and any one of those 15 soldiers can use any one of the 15 firearms assigned to their group. But, no one outside that group can use any of those firearms if the weapons are dropped or the soldiers disarmed. Let’s talk about this project from a technological development perspective real quick.

I’ve gone through three main revisions in the course of this design. The first revision was primitive, with circuit boards and batteries literally duct taped to the side of a model handgun. Needless to say, it didn’t even turn on, but I learned a lot from this revision, and I took it to the local science fair, where I competed and won first place in engineering. I then set out to fix pretty much everything wrong with this design.

The second revision was astronomically better. I started from scratch and created a CAD file that was a model firearm, but also had space for everything extra that I need to have in my system. This means that I could integrate everything in there and not have to worry about connections or anything like that. Also, instead of using this previous, complicated 3-board circuit board design that didn’t work, I simplified it down into a 1-board design, that was much easier to use and actually turned on. It didn’t quite work, though I screwed up a connection between the microprocessor, the part that actually controls the system, and the mechanism that locks and unlocks the firearm. This means that while I could test some aspects of it, it didn’t completely work.

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