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Smart Gun CEO: Biometrics Failure Rate to be Released Before Payment Due
I asked Kai Kloepfer of Biofire Technologies readers' tough questions on government mandates, reliability, privacy, gun-rights groups and his customer base
The first “smart gun” that uses biometrics to unlock it has hit the market. Biofire Technologies is taking pre-orders for a handgun that is designed to prevent children, teenagers and criminals from access.
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The gun Kloepfer’s company developed is “smart” because it uses both fingerprints and 3D facial recognition to unlock it. Regular guns have mechanical safety mechanisms.
The smart gun costs $1,499. and has infrared sensors in the grip which automatically lock the gun when it is released. Regular guns stay unlocked when put down or taken away.
NOTE: My interview lasted more than a half hour, so I’ve had to condense this Q&A down quite a lot for length. If you asked a question in the chat thread (below) that I didn’t include in the write-up, tell me in the comments, and I’ll give you his answer.
Question: Would you trust your life and your loved ones to this gun under all circumstances?
Kloepfer: Yes, for home defense. It's not what I choose for concealed carry, mostly because it’s too big.
NOTE: Below is a video of the Biofire Smart Gun from the company so you can see the size and how it operates. The firearm only comes in 9mm caliber.
BIOMETRICS & RELIABILITY
Question: Biometric safes don't always work. A lot can go wrong with biometric readers. Where is the research that this works?
Kloepfer: Reliability is the number one key thing here. The reason why we have two different kinds of biometrics is the redundancy allows us to deliver a lot more reliable experience.
We expect about 90% of the time that the user is probably going to unlock the firearm with the fingerprint. But if their hands are sufficiently wet or dirty— let's say they're in the middle of a downpour — the facial recognition system will be unaffected and work great.
The facial recognition system is state-of-the-art. It works great in the dark.
NOTE: The gun’s system is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that Biofire says lasts several months with average use and can fire continuously for several hours.
Question: What is the failure rate of your product of the gun?
Kloepfer: We are in final pre-production optimization right now, so we have not released our final metrics for things like failure. Those will be released formally to customers before we ask anybody to put down non-refundable, final payments.
NOTE: A small batch of initial orders will deliver at the end of 2023. For new orders, the delivery will be in mid-2024.
PRIVACY & ACCESS
Question: Is the gun connected to the Internet?
Kloepfer: No. The gun itself is a completely hardened, air-gapped system. There's no Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or GPS... There's no connectivity of any kind in the gun other than a single USB-C port, and that USB port doesn't trust anything that’s connected to it. It's a super locked down, proprietary encrypted protocol.
The second portion of the system is the smart dock— that's how you interface the system. That has optional Wi-Fi. There are certain features that our customers have asked for, like data notification on their phone if their gun has been touched or removed from the dock...So you'll need to connect to the Internet to get access to those features.
NOTE: The owner can add the biometric for up to five authorized users.
PURPOSE SMART GUN
Question: Exactly what problem are you trying to solve? Roughly two-thirds of deaths via firearm are suicide — you're not going to stop much of that— and roughly 97% of crime guns are obtained outside of legal channels.
Kloepfer: The number one problem we're trying to solve is to ensure that firearms can only be used by the owner or in a way that the owner has intended.
I've gotten the chance to train with Navy SEALs and with other folks that have a lot of close-quarters combat training, and I know that I don't have those skills... And so personally, I really appreciate the peace of mind of knowing that, within a fraction of a second after that gun leaves my control, it's going to be locked and unusable.
NOTE: Since the crime spike of 2020, the homicide numbers went up so much that suicides now are just over half of firearm-related deaths. According to CDC data, there were 20,958 homicides and 26,328 suicide by firearm in the most recent data for 2021. (FBI data is incomplete.)
Kloepfer: For suicide, a huge percentage of those are using firearms, especially among teenagers, that are not owned by the person attempting suicide. And unsecured access to firearms is, in fact, considered by many public health experts to be one of the most important primary criteria that drive suicide rates in the home.
We are not claiming that we are going to prevent 100% of gun deaths, that's obviously impossible. And we're also not saying we're trying to prevent 100% of suicides.
Question: What is your company's position on this technology being mandated by law, especially considering the benefits that such laws would have for your business?
Kloepfer: Laws like that do not have benefits for our business. And we have consistently lobbied against mandates or requirements of smart guns for any reason.
Our customers are looking for a choice. They're looking for an option. And we want to build such an amazing great product that they're going to choose to purchase our product because it solves key problems for them.
NOTE: There are currently no laws mandating smart guns in the U.S. In 2002, New Jersey passed a law that said only smart guns could be sold by licensed dealers once the technology was on the market. However, that law was changed in 2019 to require New Jersey dealers to sell smart guns along with regular ones.
Question: Do you think your product will sell? Who is your target customer?
Kloepfer: We've already sold out of the first couple of batches of pre-orders. We have thousands of orders from every single state in the country. So yes, I think it's going to sell.
We've seen a really exciting mix of different kinds of people who are looking at this product. We have a lot of first-time gun buyers for home defense, but we've also seen a lot of experienced gun enthusiasts.
Question: How will your company handle responsibility and liability for a gun that fails to work in a self-defense situation?
Kloepfer: As a gun owner myself, I would never use a smart gun that didn't perform just as well as a ... classic, standard, similar firearm. We expect to be operating at a similar level of mechanical reliability, from a malfunction rate perspective.
And on the electronic side, due to the redundant biometrics, our goal is users would never experience a failure to unlock the system when they need it to, and it should always be locked when it leaves their control.
Question: How will your company handle the responsibility and liability for a gun that fails to work in a self-defense situation?
Kloepfer: We take this extremely seriously— both from the perspective that this is a product that our customers trust with their lives and their families’ lives to work right— and the stakes are very, very high.
We cannot build a viable business if we have a product that is not going to be reliable. We stand behind our product just the same as any other manufacturer would— both because it's the right thing for customers, but also because that's what's required by law.
If we say it meets a certain performance standard, and the product fails to meet that performance standard, that's when we end up getting sued. And we would end up losing the product liability lawsuit. We would never release a product where that is going to be an issue.
Question: Is there a kill switch on the company end?
Kloepfer: Absolutely not. Biofire has no ability to access, control, or circumvent any aspect of the firearm.
Question: Does it report firing data back to a server?
Kloepfer: Obviously, we have to store a representation of your biometric data inside of the firearm to be able to provide a biometric matching…It's stored and encrypted such that nobody, not even Biofire, has access to the keys required to get access to that information.
So there's definitely no reporting back of any sort of who's been firing the gun and how often.
POLICE & LAW ENFORCEMENT
Question: How many law enforcement agencies— state, federal, local— are lined up to purchase the product? Will we see the Secret Service switch to this gun to protect our most valuable asset, Joe Biden? That’s obviously snarky.
Kloepfer: That's a good, snarky question. This particular product is not designed for the needs of law enforcement.
We are in discussions with a variety of folks in terms of pilot customers and other people who would be potentially among the first to look at a law enforcement version of the product, which would be… very, very similar. But there are certain differences around privacy and security needs and things like that for law enforcement.
Question: Could the bad guy snatch the gun and use it?
Kloepfer: Within a fraction of a second after it leaves your control— after you let go of it, after it’s snatched away by a bad guy, after you put it down on a table— it will be locked and unusable. That's why somebody would buy a smart gun.
GUN RIGHTS GROUPS
Question: There are Vista, NRA and NSSF logos on the company's website under “where we're from.” Is that a real endorsement?
Kloepfer: No, those are logos of where our employees have worked.
Question: What response have you received from pro-gun organizations, like NRA, Gun Owners of America and the Second Amendment Foundation?
Kloepfer: We're a member in good standing of the [National Shooting Sports Foundation.]
The NRA doesn’t endorse specific companies. They are against mandates like we are. They are not against smart guns in any way. We’ve been a good steward of this overall conversation against mandates.
Question: Do you talk to people to NRA or Gun Owners of America? Are the lines of communication open with them?
Kloepfer: I do not believe we've talked to anybody at GOA in particular. But yes, NSSF and NRA for sure.
Question: I heard that magazines about guns were denied the ability to test the gun. Is that true?
Kloepfer: That's… definitely not true. We've invited all of those folks out to do demos... Right now, we're only running demos in our indoor range here at our office in Colorado. A lot of those publications basically indicated that they were only open to testing units in their own facilities... and we just simply don't have the inventory available now.
Question: What percentage of investment funds do you have shares?
Kloepfer: We're a venture-backed tech company, many of our investors are public. Our most recent fundraising round was led by Founders Fund, which is Peter Thiel’s outfit.
Emily: Your age is always a thing. How old are you now?
Emily: My watch must be listening to us because it just said, “Age is nothing but a number.” We will leave it at that.
Let’s discuss in the comments:
Now, are you more or less likely to consider buying the smart gun after reading directly from Kloepfer about it?
If your question was included, did you get the information you wanted? If it wasn’t included, just let me know below in the comments, and I’ll give you his response.
*I was not paid by Biofire nor by the competition gun manufacturers. I do not have advertisers or sponsors influencing my work here.
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