NPR Report Highlights Detroit-Based Sentinl’s Smart Gun Technology

Amid the fallout following a mass shooting in Orlando, FL,  earlier this month, the political discourse has turned once again to gun control. As I type this, National Public Radio is reporting that 30 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives are staging a sit-in on the floor of the their chamber to demand action on proposed gun safety measures.

Earlier today, well before the sit-in got rolling, NPR aired a report on gun control. It mentioned Sentinl, a Detroit-based startup developing a biometric trigger lock that almost instantly deactivates after an authorized user’s fingerprints have been scanned, allowing the gun to be fired.

When we last checked in with Sentinl in January, founder and CEO Omer Kiyani had just returned from CES in Las Vegas, where he was officially launching  Indentilock. Kiyani said in an email that Sentinl was the first and only firearm tech company to have a booth at CES. Because of that, he said, there was a snafu when it came time to demonstrate how his device works.

“We expected some hurdles since the consumer electronics industry has shied away from gun safety for a long  time,” Kiyani said. “I never did expect that an industry-defining exhibit like the Consumer Electronics Show would not allow us to demo our product with a gun, or worse even, with an imitation gun. It’s like preventing Google from demoing its self-driving car.”

Kiyani, a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA) who spent much of his career as an automotive engineer, counts Tom Lasorda, former CEO of Chrysler, among his company’s advisors. To create Identilock, Kiyani enlisted a multi-disciplinary team of designers and engineers to create a safety mechanism that includes fingerprint authentication technology similar to the iPhone 6 and then worked with TechTown Detroit to get his product to market.

The piece on NPR described Kiyani’s reluctance to wade into the politics of the gun control debate. From his perspective, it’s purely a safety matter. As he told NPR, he’s a gun-owning parent and engineer whose job is to solve safety issues.

Not only is he a parent, he’s the victim of past gun violence. Although he declined to detail the crime in the radio report, he told Xconomy that he was shot in the mouth by an unknown assailant—Kiyani said he was in the wrong place at the wrong time—who remains at large to this day. The shooter used an unregistered weapon to carry out the crime, a fact that haunted Kiyani and was partly the impetus for Indentilock.

As gun control reform again dominates headlines and the national political conversation, Kiyani wants to position Identilock as a cutting-edge solution. However, there is still push back from NRA purists. On NPR, Jim Lucas, a state legislator from Indiana, said he’d  be “100 percent against [Identilock]” because of concerns that it would fail in the heat of a confrontation.

Kiyani built Identilock after winning  a firearms challenge issued by Silicon Valley’s Smart Tech Challenges Foundation. Stephen Teret, former director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, told NPR that as a judge on the firearms challenge panel, he voted to award Kiyani seed money because Sentinl’s effort represents a significant advance in smart gun technology that is unlike any past attempts, most notably the one mounted by Smith & Wesson that was highly unpopular with NRA members.

“Mr. Kiyani’s product may ultimately take us over that bridge of smart guns,” Teret said.

Kiyani aims to have Identilock on the market by the end of the year and is accepting pre-orders on the company’s website.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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