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Exclusive: We Test The Armatix iP1, The Not-So-Smart Gun

Thursday, November 12, 2015

In May 2014, NRA staffers secretly tested the Armatix iP1, the so-called “smart gun” that at the time was causing a furor among both media and gun owners nationwide. What we found was disappointing at best, and alarming at worst. 

NRA sent a team of firearm experts to an undisclosed range (at the request of our hosts) to do real-world tests of the iP1. To our knowledge, NRA is the only organization that has actually conducted real-world tests of the iP1 under range conditions.

Guns & Gear Editor and team member Frank Winn penned a review of the iP1 for America’s 1st Freedom. However, A1F withheld publication of the test results for fear that an honest review of the poorly functioning Armatix might be misconstrued as opposition to the technology itself. NRA was already being falsely accused of blocking smart gun development, and the expensive, small-caliber Armatix was failing on its own due to fears that sale of the gun would trigger New Jersey’s infamous mandate requiring similar technology in all guns.

In truth, NRA has never opposed smart guns, believing the marketplace should decide their future. Rather, NRA opposes government mandates of expensive, unproven technology, and smart guns are a prime example of that.

However, smart guns have been making a comeback in the news lately. On Oct. 22, theWashington Post reported on the recent activity of the iP1’s designer, German Ernst Mauch, as he attempted to rehabilitate the iP1’s reputation, as well as his own: “It’s operating perfectly.”To our knowledge, NRA is the only organization that has actually conducted real-world tests of the iP1 under range conditions. 

The Nov. 1 edition of CBS’ “60 Minutes” ran a smart gun segment that featured the oft-cited clip from the James Bond movie “Skyfall,” showing a bad guy foiled by Bond’s smart gun. Host Leslie Stahl interviewed Ron Conway, a Silicon Valley investor who funds 15 separate companies working on smart gun tech, who said: “This is going to happen outside the gun industry. Why they aren’t doing research and investing in this baffles me.”

Then on Nov. 3, Mother Jones magazine called smart guns, “The Guns the NRA Doesn’t Want Americans to Get.” In the article, Mauch is quoted as saying, “I still want people to understand that there is a huge potential for this technology. The technology was never in question.”

Of course Conway and Mauch want us to believe in smart gun tech: Conway would love to see his investments pay off, and Mauch is looking for a job after Armatix—having lost millions of euros trying to launch his iP1—fired him as CEO and banned him from the premises under the threat of criminal penalties. Mauch told the Post he resigned because he didn’t want to sue or attack the gun industry, but an Armatix attorney confirmed he was released “for internal reasons.”

Does the Armatix operate perfectly? Well, no; we found it to be troubling at best. NRA’s tests, conducted with staffers trained by Armatix, found a number of very serious problems:

  • The Armatix pistol initially required a full 20 minutes to pair with the watch, even with the aid of an IT pro trained in its use. Without pairing, the Armatix functions like any other handgun, capable of being fired by anyone.
  • Once paired, a “cold start” still requires a minimum of seven push-button commands and a duration of 12 seconds before the gun can be fired.
  • While the gun holds a maximum of 11 rounds (10+1), the best our experts could manage was nine consecutive rounds without a failure to fire (and that only once). Three or four misfires per magazine were common, despite using various brands of ammunition.
  • Although the Armatix has a decent single-action trigger, it has the worst double-action trigger we’ve ever tested, requiring more force than any other pistol we’ve fired.
  • The pistol must be within 10 inches of the watch during “start up.” This slows and complicates the use of the pistol if one hand is injured or otherwise unavailable.
  • The design of the Armatix’s hammer prevents it from being safely thumbed forward.
  • All this malfunction comes at a high price: At $1,798 ($1,399 for the base pistol and another $399 for the enabling watch), the Armatix is a more than five times the cost of other common .22s, like Walther’s excellent P22 ($319) or Browning’s tried-and-true Buckmark ($349), and four and a half times that of Smith & Wesson’s M&P22 polymer semi-auto ($379) or Ruger’s SR22 ($379). It’s also more than three times the cost of pistols like Glocks and Smith & Wesson M&Ps made in true self-defense calibers.

Although the Armatix has a decent single-action trigger, it has the worst double-action trigger we’ve ever tested, requiring more force than any other pistol we’ve fired.Unfortunately, the team was unable to test the durability of the electronics that supposedly make the Armatix “smart,” leaving several questions unanswered:

  • What happens when pistol/watch batteries fail?
  • Will the pistol’s poorly sealed battery compartment perform when rain-soaked?
  • What happens if you lose the watch or it breaks? Or when it goes (even more) out of style?
  • Will the gun/watch still function if dropped?
  • How many firing cycles will the electronics tolerate before failure?
  • How easy is it to hack the RFID connection to the pistol?

The biggest unanswered question, however, comes from the Armatix’s patent application:

  • Why does the Armatix contain “kill switch” functionality, allowing it to be disabled by third parties … a fact confirmed by such functionality at the test range?

The Post article claims the Armatix “passed rigorous testing and certification in the United States.” We’d sure like to talk to whomever conducted those tests, because we have tested the Armatix—and found it greatly wanting. Again, NRA only opposes the imposition of technologies via government force, and is happy for the marketplace to pass its own judgment. But if this is the technology upon which smart-gun proponents want the marketplace to base its decision, their rejection will be both swift and brutal.

Read Frank Winn’s unpublished, exclusive 2014 A1F review here.

BY Frank Winn

Guns & Gear Editor, America's 1st Freedom

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