This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)
During recent years, mass shooting incidents have become a possible threat in the US. New technologies offer innovative solutions to the illegal use of firearms. Private companies have been working on advances in firearms and other technologies that might save lives.
Theatlantic.com elaborates on some of them.
Smart guns – “If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns?,” President Obama asked last January after the shooting in San Bernardino, California. Indeed, manufacturers have been developing smart guns, that can be fired only by authorized users, since the 1990s. But because of low demand and fierce opposition by the National Rifle Association, none has yet made it to market.
According to William Tang, an engineering professor at UC Irvine, the technologies to remotely disable a gun already exist—it’s just a matter of bringing them all together.
Guns could be equipped, for instance, with the same radio transmitters found in cellphones, giving them unique ID numbers and providing time-stamped data on the number of rounds they’ve fired. The safety could then be controlled via an app, which would send commands to ultra-lightweight levers in the stock of the gun. If police were given a backdoor into the software, Tang says, they might be able to check cell-tower records to determine which guns have been fired in the vicinity of a shooting and then disable them.
Theatlantic.com points out, however, that it is unlikely that a mass shooter would use a gun with such technology in the first place, or that law enforcement could go through the steps to disable one fast enough to save lives. The prospect of giving police a backdoor into the software should give us serious pause.
Enhancing Schools’ Security – Technologies such as high-tech, high-volume body scanners and bullet-resistant, automatically locking doors are already on the market. “Gunfire detectors”—originally developed for use on battlefields and the streets of high-crime neighborhoods—are popping up in classrooms, playgrounds, and cafeterias.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, an average mass shooting lasts no more than 15 minutes. Typically, three to five minutes pass before the first calls begin streaming into 911. One tool that could cut down that delay is an app-based service called Guard911, which equips teachers at a school with a digital “panic button” that instantly blasts an alert to the phone of every police officer—on duty or off—within a certain radius of the school. To date, some 35,000 cops have downloaded the app.
NetTalon’s Virtual Command system automatically locks every door—reinforced with steel and bulletproof glass—within seconds of a teacher sounding the first alarm. A computer terminal at the local police department then lets law-enforcement officers take control of the school. With the help of motion detectors and cameras, dispatchers can track a gunman’s whereabouts.
They can also cloud his vision by releasing smoke from canisters installed at strategic points in the ceiling—and potentially push him to a location where he can more easily be apprehended.
Security Robots – In the Dallas shooting last July, police armed a small robot with a bomb and detonated it next to the shooter—killing him, and ending an hours-long standoff. It was the first time police in the U.S. had ever used a robot to kill a suspect.
Security robots already patrol parking lots and shopping centers in California, the Knightscope K5, for instance, uses sensors and high-definition cameras to monitor a GPS-defined area, scanning for people who don’t belong there. The company behind the robot is hoping to develop gun-detection software that will let it recognize firearms and alert authorities if one is spotted. A weapon-equipped robot might one day track down a shooter using visual sensors and data. After locating the gunman, it could fire at him—or, perhaps, incapacitate him with nonlethal force.
The U.S. military, for instance, uses self-directed missiles to find and destroy enemy radar systems. But as Missy Cummings, the head of robotics at Duke University, points out, developing such technology for use in the close-range, crowded spaces where mass shootings typically occur—malls, cafeterias, movie theaters—presents enormous technical challenges.