Can Biofire's Biometric Smart Gun Prevent Unauthorised Use of Firearms?

03-05-2023 | By Robin Mitchell

Recently, a Colorado-based company, Biofire, has been developing a Smart Gun that utilises biometrics to allow only authorised users to discharge the weapon. This article explores the challenges firearms face concerning safety, how Biofire plans to use biometrics to address these issues, and the potential disadvantages of smart guns.

Challenges in Firearm Safety

Depending on where you are in the world, firearms are generally either seen as something to be protected or something to be shunned. For example, those in the UK will generally see firearms as pointless contraptions that only invite harm, with only the police and armed forces needing access to them. In the US, however, it is generally accepted that firearms are critical in the country’s defence, especially against governments that could become oppressive and violate the US Constitution. Regardless, this article is not looking to support either side, as both have perfectly valid points, but what both sides can certainly agree on is that firearms have the capacity to be deadly, and this introduces a whole range of challenges with their use.

Arguably, one of the biggest challenges faced with firearm safety is that they are unable to distinguish between an authorised and an unauthorised user, meaning that either can operate them. For example, a gun that is stolen will be particularly valuable to criminals as they cannot be traced back to them. This also means that during a criminal incident, guns can’t be remotely deactivated, and guns obtained in a struggle can be used against their owner. 

According to a study, over 38,000 firearm-related deaths occurred in the United States in 2020, with a significant portion involving unauthorised users or accidents (source: CDC National Center for Health Statistics). 

This inability to recognise authorised users also introduces challenges when children are involved. There have been numerous cases where young children find their parent’s guns and either injure themselves or someone else nearby, not recognising the danger that those firearms possess (there is evidence that shows exposure and handling of firearms at a young age reduces this risk). This risk can be reduced by storing ammunition separately from guns, but this introduces risks to personal safety, where mere moments can mean the difference between life and death.

Biofire develops smart gun with bio-authentication

Recognising the challenges with firearms in the modern world, one company in Colorado is looking to change the game with their development of a Smart Gun that can only be used by authorised individuals. The company, called Biofire, has combined multiple biometric technologies, including a fingerprint scanner and facial recognition, so that only those who are positively identified can use the firearm. According to the company's website, the 9mm Biofire Smart Gun is always locked and safe from unauthorised use. It only fires for authorised users, preventing tragic outcomes in the hands of children, criminals, or anyone else. The proprietary Guardian Biometric Engine uses integrated fingerprint and 3D facial recognition systems to instantly unlock the firearm just by picking it up, with no codes, buttons, or gadgets required.

Biofire Smart Gun: 9mm, locks when not held, fires only for authorized users, preventing tragedy by children or criminals.

While this idea is certainly not new, it is only now that modern technologies have become small enough to make such a system practical. Previous versions have looked to use RFID systems to provide local authorisation, while others have developed fingerprint locks that attach around a firearm. But these past ideas have failed primarily as they have tried to modify the mechanics of existing firearms, which can result in a high degree of unreliability.

Instead, Biofire has designed their gun from the ground up and replaced the mechanical system with an electronic solenoid that strikes a chambered round. The trigger is connected to an electronic switch, so the system can only fire if the entire gun is powered on and able to recognise the user. The gun utilises a lithium-ion battery for power, and a charging station allows the gun to be easily recharged. 

When the trigger is pulled, a fingerprint scanner in the trigger determines if the user is authorised to use the weapon. If the fingerprint scanner fails, a small camera on the back of the gun takes a facial mapping of the user as a failsafe authentication system. Only when all of these conditions have been met can the firearm be discharged. To reduce energy usage, a proximity IR sensor on the back detects if the gun is still in use. That way, the gun only needs to be authorised once. Biofire has engineered the Smart Gun to offer a balance between safe storage and instant access. Users can enrol multiple authorised users, personalise settings, and store the gun close at hand, ensuring it is always ready when needed and locked for anyone else. 

What disadvantages do smart guns face?

The gun developed by Biofire could definitely help to reduce the risk of accidental discharge as well as prevent the unauthorised use of firearms. However, there are some challenges that still lie ahead.

The first is that guns have always been entirely mechanical, as they need to be absolutely reliable. A gun that fails halfway through an encounter can lead to deadly consequences for those defending themselves. Thus, should any of the sensitive electronic components on the Biofire Smart Gun fail, the user will be extremely vulnerable. It is possible for the gun to fail when holstered, and this will only be apparent when pulled out in a life-threatening situation.

The second challenge is that such guns can still be used by criminals, especially mass shooters. So long as the gun is purchased legally, there is nothing stopping the gun from being used against innocent people. Worse, the gun itself would not have the ability to be remotely shut off, as such a feature would make the Smart Gun extremely unreliable. 

Overall, what Biofire has created is a great step in the right direction for improving firearm safety, and there is no doubt that future firearms will become more dependent on circuits and digital logic (this could be true if coil guns ever take off). However, until then, this firearm will unlikely be popular with those who rely on firearms for personal protection and require absolute reliability in life-threatening situations. The Biofire team consists of gun owners, engineers, and parents who have experience in building satellites, medical devices, autonomous weapons systems, supersonic jets, and firearms. They aim to develop innovative solutions to keep loved ones safe. Ian McCollum from Forgotten Weapons has praised the Biofire Smart Gun, stating, 'If it weren't for the fact that it's got sensors and screens and lights on it, you wouldn't know that this isn't just a regular mechanical pistol, and I think that to me, that's a sign that they've done their job right.


By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.