Though the idea of using technology to improve firearms safety has been around for decades (and stymied by politics for just as long), a forthcoming product offers hope that 2016 could be the breakthrough year for smart guns. Created by Detroit entrepreneur Omer Kiyani, Identilock is a biometric clasp that shields a gun’s trigger and releases only when it detects the owner’s fingerprint. The goal: Curtail the estimated 2,000 accidental shootings that hospitalize children and adolescents in the U.S. each year and reduce the market for stolen handguns.
The first device of its kind, Identilock became available for pre-order in early January and is expected to ship this summer—and Kiyani hopes that it will change the conversation around smart-gun technology. "Identilock is the one product that brings both sides of the gun debate together," he says. The main difference between Identilock and, say, the Armatix iP1—a smart gun that went to market in 2014 and was met with fierce resistance by gun-rights activists—is that Identilock is not a gun. It’s an accessory, created to fit a broad range of existing handguns. If that’s a difference only a gun owner can appreciate, then perhaps it makes sense that Kiyani is one. He’s also a member of the National Rifle Association, a father, and the survivor of a shooting—he took a stray bullet in the mouth as a teenager. "I’ve created a solution that I’d be willing to use myself," he says.
Knowing that some of his most important constituents are people, like him, who keep firearms at home for security, Kiyani has focused the entire technology on quick access. "As soon as the authorized user touches [the shield], it gets out of the way," he explains. And the biometrics he employs are no different from those currently being used reliably outside the gun market, resulting in a clasp that’s as simple to unlock as a smartphone.
Kiyani has been able to develop and engineer his product thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation, an incubator program launched by tech titan and billionaire angel investor Ron Conway in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting. While some of the program’s other grantees are developing similar tools, Kiyani’s will be the first to go to market when it ships this year. Kiyani is selling Identilock directly to consumers online, but his team is also pushing to get it on the shelves of national stores, like Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops, as well as specialty retailers—which would be a huge leap forward in the mainstreaming of smart-gun technology.
A version of this article appeared in the February 2016 issue of Fast Company magazine.