Colorado Teen Develops Smart-Gun That Can Only Be Unlocked by Fingerprint

Kai Kloepfer engineered a gun with a fingerprint sensor that can be fired only by a user with a matching print. Credit Daniel Borris for The New York Times
Kai Kloepfer engineered a gun with a fingerprint sensor that can be fired only by a user with a matching print. Credit Daniel Borris for The New York Times

Boulder, Colorado teenager Kai Kloepfer took it upon himself to try and prevent mass shooting following the incident at a nearby Aurora movie theater in 2012.  He soon recognized, however, that he would not be able to keep guns out the hands of dangerous people, so he decided to design a gun that would reduce accidental shootings by only being capable of being fired by an authorized user.

He was just 15 at the time and had exhibited a talent for engineering.  He had been teaching himself engineering since he was a child so he set out to make guns safer.

At first, he started with iris recognition but realized that people might be wearing sunglasses, so he moved on to fingerprints. It took him over seven months and more than 1,500 hours to create a plastic model of his smart gun.

The gun Kloepfer designed only works when unlocked by the fingerprint of someone authorized, and not for anyone else.  Kloepfer’s handgun fires only when a finger it recognizes is on the grip. More than 1,000 fingerprints can be authorized per gun, and Kloepfer says the sensor is 99.999 percent accurate.

He entered his fingerprint handgun in a local science fair and won.  And it kept winning.  In fact, he competed in the 2013 INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair and won first place grand award for engineering.  At 16, he had won the world’s top youth science competition.

His INTEL award included a monetary prize. He asked for and received a grant of $50,000 from the SmartTech Challenges Foundation whose goal is to support innovation in gun safety.

Kai Kloepfer is now 18 years old and has been using the grant money to improve the technology.  The weapon he designed “doesn’t change the function of a firearm at all. It just makes it safer,” he says.

But smart guns have their detractors.  Opponents say the technology is unreliable and Kloepfer’s gun uses batteries that have to be recharged.

He is now working to add the fingerprint lock technology to a real gun. One day, he expects to see his “smart gun” for sale next to other firearms.

In the meantime, he will spend the next year improving his fingerprint handgun before he starts college at one of the world’s top universities – the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

What do you think of this technology?  The NRA has expressed some reservations because they are concerned that the government may make this technology mandatory on all future gun manufacturing. Will you go out and buy one when they become available?

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