In Skyfall, Q gives James Bond a Walther PPK 9mm short with a palm print sensor for his newest assignment. Hollywood’s smart gun can only be unlocked and fired by approved users.

However, movies and reality exist. Smart firearms have yet to be developed due to technological and political issues.

Biofire, a Colorado startup, claims to have created the first biometric smart pistol. The facial recognition and fingerprint-verified firearm was pre-ordered this month.

“The basic premise of a smart gun—a firearm that only works for you—is sort of obvious and uncontroversial,” says Biofire founder and CEO Kai Kloepfer. “The challenge is nobody’s built one that always works for you and never works for anybody else.”

Kloepfer, 26, started her quest the year Skyfall came out, but not because of the movie’s tech. After a gunman killed 12 and wounded dozens at a midnight Batman movie screening in Aurora, Colorado, in July, Kloepfer began thinking about how technology could improve gun safety.

  1. Kloepfer.

Science fair project becomes startup

Aurora was a half-hour from Kloepfer. He knew about gun violence, but it had never touched him.

As a young engineer, he pondered if technology could reduce gun violence.

He chose a smart gun, which is constantly secured but instantaneously available.

Kloepfer engineered one for a science fair assignment. Biofire’s headquarters display a 3D-printed replica that appears like a plastic gun with the top half missing. He added a fingerprint sensor to the gun grip.

“As you can see, it’s not a gun,” he explains, pointing to that first prototype in the exhibit case. The science fair didn’t allow guns work. I would have been expelled.”

Kloepfer claims the scientific fair model failed. Its engineering and analysis won him first place at an international engineering science fair. He bought a bike with his prize money.

With $50,000 in grant money, he built a new smart gun prototype that fired.

He attached a fingerprint sensor to a Glock handgun grip. He claims it was basic and unstable, but mostly worked.

“It was very clear that taking Glocks and buying off-the-shelf firearms and drilling holes in them isn’t good way to build a reliable product,” he says.

Kloepfer left MIT after a short time to work on Biofire, a startup with 40 people and $30 million in venture capital funding.

His team has developed hundreds of prototypes, combining old-school gunsmithing with cutting-edge technology at its offices outside Denver.

Thermal chambers imitate environmental conditions in the main workshop. Kloepfer argues that testing is essential to verify that an electronic rifle operates in any situation.

“We’re focused on home defense, but building a firearm that stops working because you took it out back in the rain obviously doesn’t work,” Kloepfer adds. “So we’ve done a lot of testing for super hot, super cold environments, what happens when it gets wet or dropped in a puddle or a bucket of water, dropped in the mud.”

Biofire’s new pre-order model looks like a futuristic firearm. The gun grip has a small fingerprint sensor where your middle finger rests. 3D facial recognition sensor on back.

Green lights on the sight and back of the gun indicate that the gun identifies and unlocks the user. Putting down the gun turns off the lights.

Kloepfer was the only person allowed to use the gun at Biofire’s firing range for NPR’s test. He aimed and fired.

When he dropped the gun, the green light went out.

A non-authorized NPR reporter picked up the gun, but it wouldn’t shoot.

Smart gun development has failed.

Smith & Wesson voluntarily agreed to improvements, including smart gun research, with the Clinton administration. The business abandoned its smart gun project years ago due to NRA resistance.

The NRA opposes smart gun mandates, not smart guns.

In 2014, German company Armatix released a radio-frequency watch-activated pistol. However, political and technical issues arose.

Nick Suplina of Everytown for Gun Safety believes this time is different. The Biofire smart pistol works, he adds.

He warns that smart firearms won’t end America’s gun violence.

“Even if widely introduced, smart guns only solve part of the US gun violence problem,” he argues.

He argues they could reduce unintended kid shootings. Suplina reports 320 unintentional child gunshots in 2022, resulting in 145 deaths and more injuries.

“Firearms now kill the most children and teens,” he says. “A smart gun would prevent a child from firing an unauthorized weapon. It’s promising.”

Smart firearms could reduce accidents and suicides, which account for almost half of gun deaths in the U.S.

Kloepfer admits that his smart gun wouldn’t have prevented the Aurora mass shooting a decade ago that started him on this smart gun route. He claims no total solution exists.

He wants to “incrementally improve” the distinctively American problem of gun deaths.

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