Armatix iP1: The Infamous German “Smart Gun”

The Armatix iP1 is a pistol created by former H&K designer Ernst Mauch that was released – or almost released – in the US in late 2013 and early 2014. It is a .22LR caliber semiauto pistol that incorporates an RFID-connected authentication link between a watch and this pistol, so that the pistol can only be fired (in theory) when the authorized user is wearing the watch. Hence, it is a “smart gun”.

Mechanically, it is a simple blowback pistol that uses an electromagnet to deactivate a firing pin block type of safety. When the watch has properly activated the pistol, the electromagnet is energized and the pistol will fire. If it is not so authorized, the firing pin block remains in place and the pistol will simply go “click” ineffectually. There are, of course, several caveats, loopholes, and exploitable vulnerabilities in this system.

When the pistol came on the market, it caused a significant reaction among gun rights proponents, as a law on the books in New Jersey mandates that 30 months after a “smart gun” is determined to be commercially available anywhere in the US, all non-“smart” pistols become illegal to sell in that state. The Armatix was expected to trigger this law, and by extension effectively ban all handguns in New Jersey. As it turned out, the state Attorney General determined in late 2014 that the iP1 did not meet the technical requirements of the law, but by this time the pistol was well and truly sunk. Dealers who considered stocking it were bullied out of that decision, sometimes to the point of receiving threats on their lives. As a result, the pistol never saw significant commercial sale, and the only ones in the US appear to be those initially brought in for marketing and demonstration.

27 Comments

  1. The Armatix was virtually a real-life “cyberpunk” handgun. About the only thing missing was a Direct Neural Interface aka a “smartgun link”.

    Like previous attempts at “personalized” sidearms, it fell down on the issue of “what if the batteries go dead?” A “smart gun” with no power was and is nothing but a short and fairly inefficient bludgeon.

    And yes, there were politicians literally salivating at the potential for firearms that could only be used by their theoretically loyal minions.

    As the late L. Neil Smith pointed out in his novel Pallas, in a police state in which “smart” assault rifles are the weapons of the security forces, the simplest way to convert one to use against same would be to determine where in their anatomy the interface link was (he assumed right palm) and then remove it and duct-tape it to the grip of the weapon in the correct place.

    A quicker-and dirtier method which he also described, more of a “field expedient”, would be to cut off the security officer’s entire hand and duct tape it to the weapon.

    cheers

    eon

  2. http://www.dogswar.ru/strelkovoe-oryjie/pistolety-revolvery/3947-pistolet-armatix-ip1.html suggest that it was not initially destined for U.S. market, but rather for selling in Arab countries, especially people having no or little prior experience with fire-arms.
    Also Armatix’s idea seems to be target different section of market than automatic pistols wielders, namely electronic gadgets buyers.
    Taking in account high price – 4900‚ā¨ – it clearly was not destined for mass usage.

  3. Look at 11:04. For a brief moment, when Ian is poking the mechanism with the screwdriver, the status light briefly flashed green (meaning the gun would fire). So it looks like there could be a way to hack the gun. Either a not authorized user could fire it or the gun could be disabled by the intended target.

    But remember folks, technology, imposed on the population by the government, will make our lives happier and safer.

  4. I think the red and green/stop and go safety makes sense with the idea of marketing this pistol to people who know nothing about firearms let alone ever handled one before so to speak. Basically everyone knows red means stop and green means go.

    • I am sure you are correct. But the irony of this is that the people pushing the smart technology are those that want fewer people to have guns, not more.

    • It’s a cultural/psychological point of reference: Which is more dangerous to the user? A weapon that is ready to function, or one that is not?

      It’s all in the framing: If you consider a weapon that is incapable of defending you as being the real risk, then you mark the “safe” (another conceptual framing issue, that term…) with the traditional “danger” color, red. If you consider a ready-to-fire weapon as being the “unsafe” thing, well… Then you mark that position with red, as we’ve (mostly) done.

      It’s all how you frame the issue. Different cultures will frame things differently, and the choices are not at all arbitrary. It’s how you think about the entire issue, and how you look at it.

      Case in point–Look at a fire extinguisher. What part of the pressure gauge is marked in green? Which part is red? Why do we frame it like that, entirely inconsistently with the way we label things like firearms safeties? It’s all in the perception; we look at a fire extinguisher as being “dangerous” when it isn’t ready to go, and “safe” when it is. Which is, I emphasize, the diametric opposite of how we look at guns and other things. Power tools, for example…

      Any alien culture looking at this stuff is probably going to be highly critical of our inconsistency in labeling/marking conventions. It’s a lot like the whole “flammable vs. inflammable” issue in the English language. Flammable is pretty clear, it means that something can be set aflame. Inflammable? LOL… Madness. Is it “in-” in the sense of it’s usage in other places wherein it indicates the opposite of the word it’s attached to? Or, is it there to mean “you can inflame this” in the sense of yeah, you can light this on fire…

      The logic behind all of this is purely in the eyes of the beholder, and it’s something that has to be learned. Usually, the hard way… I had guys who thought that something which was labeled “inflammable” in the Army meant that it was fireproof. Nuh-uh, children… It means it is a fscking FIRE HAZARD.

      This gets really ugly when you have subordinates who aren’t trained fuel handlers tasked with doing storage for packaged petroleum products, and they think it’s a perfectly rational choice to store vapor-hazard petroleum products labeled “inflammable” within the same spaces as open-flame heaters…

      I swear to God, that one took years off my life. “But, Sergeant Kirk, it’s labeled as fireproof…”

      You can really tell who paid attention in English classes during school, sometimes.

      • “(…)You can really tell who paid attention in English classes during school, sometimes.”
        Well, according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_100,000 some time in 1960s threshold for being fit for service was lowered. Which increased total available, but has side-effect
        Project 100,000 soldiers included those unable to speak English, who had low mental aptitude, minor physical impairments, and those who were slightly over- or underweight.
        How unable to speak English were supposed to be commanded is beyond my comprehension of 1960s U.S. military.

        • Macnamara’s 100,000, as it was known in the US Air Force in the 1980s, was the brainchild of then Secretary of Defense Robert Macnamara. Macanamara believed in number crunching, analysis, and technology. Reality didn’t intrude on his world. His product failures at Ford Motor Company should have been a warning.

          • Hate to tell you this, but one of the guys who thought that “inflammable” meant it couldn’t be set on fire was a 2LT with a college degree from a well-known prestigious university. I’ve also met others with degrees who made the same mistake.

            Strangely, many of the “eedjit” types you’d think would be making the same sort of mistake knew better, mostly from sad personal experience. “Oh, no, man… You don’t play with that stuff, the vapor is gonna go boom…”

            Swear to God, I really don’t want to know what a couple of my guys did in civilian life. They had entirely too much experience with things that kinda-sorta made me wonder about how big a field there actually was for professional-level arson in civilian life, ‘cos they were very familiar with setting things on fire. Things you might not consider as being susceptible to being set on fire…

  5. There has been a way to convert revolvers into smart-ish guns for a long time now, the Magna-Trigger from Tarnhelm Supply Co. No electronics involved, but rather the user wears a magnetic ring and if the revolver is not gripped with someone wearing that sort of ring it will not fire. Not terribly expensive, No batteries, no circuit board, and very reliable as per those who have had the conversions made to their revolvers. Would seem to be a good idea if there were irresponsible people in one’s home or if there was a concern about being disarmed. Unlike the gun in this video, these revolvers would only go off if gripped by the owner, as opposed to merely being close to the owner’s watch. It could not possibly be turned off via remote control, so it is of no interest to certain politicians.

    For any smart gun depending on radio communication, transmitting on the same frequency with a more powerful portable transmitter (e.g., a $30 Chinese ham walkie-talkie) could have the potential to jam it unless it used spread spectrum frequency hoping, etc. Thus it would not be a great idea if facing professional criminals.

    • And remember that Gollum bit the ring and finger off Frodo’s hand. So not a fool-proof protection from the bad guys getting to use the gun.

  6. One good reason why not to use a “smart gun” is that someone will inevitably bypass the recognition system with a cost much lower than that to create the system in the first place. Aw, heck, it’s rumored that you can bypass the electromagnetic lock with a large bog-standard horseshoe magnet. I could be wrong.

  7. In the Japanese animated science fiction series “Psycho Pass” the police have a “smart pistol” known as a “dominator”. It is much smarter and more advanced than the IP1 pistol. Not only can dominators only be fired by authorized users, they can only be used against authorized targets (I won’t try to explain this here).

    None the less, a number of episodes rely on or revolve around the dominator’s smart features being worked around or subverted to either prevent it being used against a villain or to allow it to be used by an un-authorized person.

    I think the problem which the IP1 is trying to solve (whatever that actually is) is a problem which is not solvable by technology, no matter how advanced.

  8. armatix was well known in Germany for a massive lobbying of a gun safe that would lock a mandrel into the gun barrels by means of ball bearings, and would only release them when the wristwatch was nearby.
    German lawmakers were interested, and all German legal gun owners had dear of being forced to buy a super expensive new gun safe that pressed ball bearings into the barrel profile!
    in the end it turned out that the system was so stupid, it could be simply removed by hand.

  9. Too many people like to practice with their firearm weak side, one handed. presumably the watch would not be close enough for this practice drill to be practical.
    presume your strong hand (with the watch) were to be disabled. You couldn’t get the watch close enough to the gun to fire it weak hand so you are left defenseless.

  10. The KISS principle applies with added force to firearms IMHO. Smart = dumb, if you’re not 100% sure it will work when you want it to. It also strikes me as rather unethical to market this type of gun to inexperienced people since it encourages lax gun safety and discourages adequate training. Just my $0.02.

    • Although I’m not suggesting guns shouldn’t have mechanical safety features – just that “don’t worry, it can’t possibly go off” is as bad a mind-set as “don’t worry, it isn’t loaded”. Also, I do accept there would LEO benefits if it were 100% reliable.

      • Definitely benefits to the public if LEO used this system – you could put a jammer in your back yard or apartment so that police couldn’t murder you in those places, as has happened in Fort Worth & Dallas, TX.

  11. Interestingly, Armatix was hated on both sides of the Atlantic because several politicians in Germany and the EU wanted to introduce a “smart guns only” policy as well. Germany even made a law simmilar to New Jersey in 2009.

  12. I think society should give Armatix another chance.

    Refactor the Armatix design as a home incarceration ankle bracelet that fires upwards into the wearer’s crotch if they leave the geofence of their dwelling.

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