Amal Graafstra isn’t necessarily a gun guy. But he’s got a radical vision of what a gun could be.
Graafstra has been active in the DIY RFID implant scene since the mid-2000s. His custom gadgetry company Dangerous Things’ mission states that “biohacking is the forefront of a new kind of evolution.” That evolution now extends to building safer, smarter firearms through sub-dermal implants.
Graafstra recently granted Motherboard an exclusive look at a prototype of one his most striking pet projects: the world’s first implant-activated smart gun, which he’s developing in his garage in suburban Washington State. Like other user-authenticated smart gun designs already out there, the idea is that the weapon would only fire in the hands of a designated user. RFIDs aren’t new to the smart gun space either; they’re used in the proximity devices that activate so-called “personalized” firearms like the Armatix iP1 pistol and the iGun, which are unlocked only when gripped by users wearing unique wristbands and finger rings, respectively.
But never before have RFIDs and guns been married in such a cyborgian fashion. “It’s two old technologies coming together in a new way,” Graafstra told Motherboard.
Guns are the older technology of the two and virtually every attempt to make them higher tech has flopped, with smart gun tech struggling in recent years to gain political or consumer traction. Since we checked out high-end smart rifle manufacturer TrackingPoint in 2013, the company was reportedly heading for bankruptcy and underwent drastic restructuring. In less boutique markets, firearms like the Armatix iP1 likewise couldn’t catch a break.
“It’s two old technologies coming together in a new way”
Graafstra’s idea aims to tackle one of the bigger problems facing smart gun tech: reliability. Critics of the technology often say smart guns are just not yet refined enough to work 100 percent of the time. If your hands are sweating, would the fingerprint reader on your smart gun not recognize your grip? What if you can’t locate the proximity ring, or you fumble putting on the wristband in the moment you need the gun the most?
Graafstra’s implant-activated system would work around those reliability issues insofar as the gun quite literally would be part of you; you’d be part of the gun. Grip the weapon and it reads the sub-dermal RFID implant—lodged in the webbing between thumb and pointer finger—unlocking the trigger. The gun would not fire in the hands of someone without the implant, as Motherboard correspondent Erik Franco saw firsthand.
It’s a particularly controversial concept, Graafstra admitted. He knows there’s a strong overlap between staunch gun enthusiasts and those who fear the government may one day institute various arms registration and civil control measures via computer chip implants. But Graafstra plans to pitch his innovation to firearms manufacturers anyway, in hopes of securing funding to properly scale up.
“To be able [in the state of Washington] to go into the gun store, hand over my [driver’s] license, and 15 minutes later walk out with [a rifle], it’s not exactly the best system to purchase these willy-nilly,” Graafstra said. “That’s why I think the smart gun concept is important, because eventually we’d be able to control who’s able to operate the weapon once it leaves the store.”