A Washington-based “biohacker” has created the first implant-activated “smart gun.” A biohacker is a person who experiments with body implants including magnets and in this case, RFID keys. Smart guns use these keys to ensure that only authorized users can shoot them.
The biohacker, Amal Graafstra, has successfully implanted an RFID tag in his hand that serves as a radio-activated safety when it’s in range of his smart gun. It’s a proof-of-concept system to illustrate that it is indeed possible. Graafstra founded and runs his business, Dangerous Things, from home.
Current RFID-based smart gun technology uses wearable tags, such as a ring or bracelet. These pose a problem: because they’re wearable, they can be lost. By implanting the tag in his hand Graafstra has side-stepped the problem entirely.
That said, it’s not as though he isn’t putting new problems on the table. Biohacking, or DIY biology, like smart guns, is also controversial. The hobby exists outside — or at least on the fringe — of medicine and biology. It’s the Internet of Things of body modification.
Even if the system was developed commercially by professionals with full support of the medical and firearms communities — which seems unlikely today — it’ll still be a tough sell.
Between personal, religious or health reasons a lot of people aren’t going to want to get microchipped in the first place. And that assumes the whole system works and is safe to do.
The biohacker solution will have to address several other problems, such as multiple authorized shooters. Will the RFID keys be universal? If so, then there’s no point in using them in the first place — they will be easily copied. What if the user needs to lend the gun to another person? Will the gun recognize wearables in case the other person does not have or want an implant?
What about multiple firearms? Many gun owners, law enforcement officers, military personnel and professional shooters have several guns. How many implants can a person handle? What happens when a smart gun detects multiple keys? In theory, a department could issue one key to all its armed officers — which will be copied and rendered useless.
An implanted RFID key only makes the key hard to lose. It still suffers from all of the other problems surrounding RFID-based smart guns.
RFID systems require that the gun broadcast a radio signal. They run on batteries, which can fail for any number of reasons. They can run down or get wet and stop working. The electronics have to be hardened to withstand real-world gun use, which can obviously be very violent.
Implant or no, radio signals can be jammed and spoofed. No matter how illegal you make this technology people will continue to make it, at home with parts from a hardware store. Graafstra should know — his shop runs out of his garage in Mt. Vernon, Wash. The jamming doesn’t even have to be deliberate — a lot of common electronics use the same radio frequency and the band can get polluted easily. Electromagnetic interference just happens.
Recently the U.S. government issued a series of requirements and guidelines for smart guns if they ever hope to see departmental use. They require that the guns tested unlock 2,000 times and the gun fire 10,000 times with zero electronics malfunctions.
Graafstra himself is not happy with his gun laws in the state of Washington. He believes it is too easy to get guns. He developed this system to prove that it’s possible — there probably wasn’t much doubt there in the first place. People like Graafstra have been playing around with electronics-based body modification for years
The question is whether or not the technology is likely to see real-world implementation. Right now it seems that the biohacker solution only trades one old problem for a handful of new ones.