Armatix iP1: The Infamous German "Smart Gun"
Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another video on ForgottenWeapons.com. I'm Ian McCollum, and today we're going to take a look at a pistol that was so controversial when it came out that basically the tiny number of gun dealers who decided they might try to sell them were bullied out of selling them by the general public. And only a tiny number of these things actually came into the country to become available.
It's a really interesting story, and a ton of people are going to have preconceived notions about it. And I think we're going to have a good time today exploring the various nuances of what was actually behind the Armatix iP1. And also how it actually works mechanically. Because for all the controversy and the coverage of it, there's not a lot out there that shows you what the thing's actually doing.
Then we're going to go actually take it out on the range and see how it shoots. So, this as I already said is an Armatix iP1, it is a .22 calibre pistol. It's not really a self-defence pistol, it's not really a target pistol. It's actually not in any way either of those things, it's really a technology demonstrator sort of pistol. And by the way, it doesn't work unless you also have the Armatix iW1 watch to go with it. So this is one of the early iterations, this is one of the few iterations of a "smart gun" that almost actually reached the commercial market.
There was a lot of interest in this sort of thing in the 1990s and the early 2000s. And it was driven by some legitimate good intentions, things like reducing accidental shootings. You know, if a toddler finds a gun and accidentally pulls the trigger. Well, if you have a gun that can only be fired by an authorised person, one would presume a toddler would not be authorised and thus couldn't pull the trigger, then you could avoid a gun accident. That's a good thing. There was also a lot of interest in coming up with a way to prevent police officers from being shot with their own guns. This is not as uncommon as you might suspect.
A police officer gets in a hand-to-hand scuffle with someone, someone then takes their gun and potentially shoots them with it. So the idea was, "Well, what if we can have a police pistol where only the officer is authorised to fire it, so if it leaves his control during say a hand-to-hand fight, well, he can't be shot by it. Or if someone steals his gun, it can't be shot by whoever stole it." Again, seems like a good idea. Now where this went awry, and what caused so much trouble for Armatix and every other company that has got into this, is specifically a law in New Jersey that was passed.
That mandated that 30 months after the Attorney General of New Jersey determined that a so-called "smart gun" was available on the market anywhere in the United States, only smart guns would be legal to sell in New Jersey. It's a law that was put into effect with the intent of developing this sort of technology to the point where it would be usable. The unintended consequence of it, or maybe the intended consequence for some people, was that once that thing became available, nothing else could be allowed to be sold in New Jersey. Which was a huge issue for ... in particular people who wanted to own pistols in New Jersey. But it became a major national rallying point in the United States. So the basic story of Armatix here is it was developed by a German engineer (it is a German company).
There are some elements of this that are so incredibly German, that we'll touch on as we get to them. But developed by a German engineer by the name of Ernst Mauch. He was formerly, I think, a fairly high up weapons designer for H&K. And left H&K in 2004/2005, about a year later joined Armatix and developed this.
Now fundamentally the way this works is that there is a radio frequency ID chip, an RFID chip, in the gun and in the watch, and the two of them communicate with each other. And the pistol will not fire unless basically it has been authenticated by the watch. So on the watch, in order to shoot the pistol, I have to go into a settings menu. I have to turn on the pistol, and it allows me to select how many hours I would like the pistol to be active for, 1 to 8.
Once I do that, then as long as the watch is within about 10 to 20 inches of the pistol, the pistol will fire. If the watch is removed from the vicinity of the pistol, it will not fire. From a technological point of view, this is interesting. Now there are a number of technical problems with the iP1, like I said, this is really a technology demonstrator. It was not in any serious, any legitimate way, intended to be any specific sort of practical pistol.
The sights and the trigger are way too terrible for it to be a target pistol. The fact that it's chambered for .22 rimfire means it is not a ... good choice for a self-defence pistol. It's there to ... show this technology working, essentially. So without further ado, let's take a look at how this actually works. And then we'll talk about what happened when it was introduced into the US market.
Alrighty, here is the complete package. We've got the gun, we've got the watch, and we've got the manual. Now I don't normally include the manual in a video like this. But in this case it's, first off, 86 pages long.
And it is absolutely necessary to ... figure out how to get all of these things to work together. So when you first get the gun, you have to ... mate the gun to the watch. Now that had already been done by this pistol's owner, so I didn't have to deal with that when I got it. However the batteries were both low to the point of potentially dying while I took it out to the range, so I figured I needed to change the batteries. And the process of changing the batteries, and then getting the gun to work took me close to an hour of reference with the manual, and working back and forth with the watch and the pistol. So the watch has a standard sort of watch coin battery, a CR2032.
That's pretty easy to replace. The pistol has a pair of AAA batteries under the grip safety, or the actuation lever. It's sort of a grip safety, but it does more than a typical grip safety. So let's start. If I haven't done anything with the watch, we'll just put it out of frame here. We have a pistol that has an LED in the back, and that's pretty cool.
The colours on this, by the way, are completely perfectly backwards to any other firearm you will basically ever find. Because red means that it will not fire, and green means that it will fire. So normally we're used to red meaning not safe, red - danger, ready to fire. In this case red means, "Ain't nothing going to happen." We have a double action trigger. This is hammer fired.
It has a very stiff trigger pull in double action. There is a safety in the trigger. That safety works simply - when you push it to the left side like this, it now runs into the frame when you try to pull the trigger. So that's how the manual safety works.
There's our marking on the slide, the Armatix iP1 Smart System. Then we have Armatix Inc, which is the American subsidiary that did the importing, in LA of all places. And this is one time when you actually wouldn't have to put "Read manual before use" on the side of the gun. Because I guarantee you, if you don't read the manual, you're not going to be able to use the gun.
It takes a little bit of finagling to figure out how to actually make this thing work. I already mentioned that the sights are terrible for a target pistol. Well there is your front sight and ... there's your rear sight. The front's square, the rear is trapezoidal. They are not adjustable, they are both moulded into the top strap of the pistol. So yeah, not something suitable for competition use.
It's just a simple blowback .22. Does lock open on an empty magazine there. The slide here is steel inside of like a plastic covering. The magazine release is German here, ... definitely an HK guy developed this. It's an ambidextrous lever, ... it's one lever that extends on both sides of the trigger guard. Pop that down, magazine comes out. This holds 10 rounds of .22 rimfire. Note that now that the magazine is out, the LED shows blue if I go and depress the grip safety.
Blue indicates that, well, the magazine is out. It does have a magazine safety built into it electronically, so it won't fire with the magazine ... removed, even if it is authenticated by the watch. By the way, the double action trigger pull is ... heavy to the point that there are some people who would not actually be able to physically pull that trigger. Alright, now for disassembly. What we do is push this little button in.
And that allows me to slide this front piece off. There was an optional device that they planned on releasing, but of course never did, that would be a USB connector you could use to update the firmware of the gun. And this is where it would have attached. Once that's off, we have a little lever here. ... This piece holds it in the upward position. Honestly I don't know why this thing is blinking, ... I have no idea why it's blinking occasionally. But once this cover is off, this piece comes down under spring pressure and then I can disassemble it simply by pulling the slide back, up and off.
Pretty typical of a simple blowback pistol. Got a recoil spring around the barrel. Mechanically speaking, the gun is pretty simple.
It is hammer fired, so we've got a firing pin right back there. But pressing that firing pin does not cause it to protrude ... that's it right there. It doesn't protrude out the front of the breech face because there is a firing pin block. And it's the electronics section that will eventually, through a series of steps, disable the firing pin block.
So what happens first is mechanical, and that is this top plunger here gets pushed in. Now that is actually done by this lug on the trigger bar. So as I pull the trigger about halfway forward it's going to hit that plunger, push it up into the slide, which is going to cause this other plunger to push down out of the slide. Now this one is magnetic, and we have an electromagnet right here inside the frame of the gun. When this electromagnet is energised, pushing this plunger down is going to get this guy close enough to this, that the magnet will pull it down and stick it here. And it's that little bit of extra travel that disables the firing pin block.
So if I just hold this thing down ... like so. I'm pushing the firing pin at the back and it's still not coming out the breech face. But if I gently grab it with a pair of pliers I can pull it out just a little bit further, and that is now enough for the firing pin to protrude and fire. Hopefully that's visible, it's a little hard to show this without three hands. So the basic sequence is when I depress the grip safety here I'm going to close an electrical connection.
The pistol is now going to inquire to the watch, via radio signal, whether or not it is authorised to fire, and the watch is going to respond back. We'll get to how you work with the watch in a moment. ... Well, if the answer is negative then the electromagnet doesn't get energised, and pulling the trigger doesn't do enough to get that block out of the way, and the gun doesn't fire. If the pistol is authorised to fire, that electromagnet is energised. It pulls the firing pin block the rest of the way, and when I pull the trigger all the way the hammer fires, and it is able to fire the pistol. So that's the basic process. Now let's take a look at the watch.
We want step six here, activating the iP1 pistol, which is page 28. We'll skip past all of this, here's the essential bit. I'm going to first hit the bottom right button on the watch to move it into gun mode. Then I'm going to hold the top right button for three seconds. Then I have to enter the PIN of the gun. Happily, the gun includes a pair of hard plastic cards that have the various identifying codes.
The super PIN and the weapon PIN are used for initially pairing the gun to a watch. And then the pin for this particular gun is 2, 2, 2, 2, 2. Alright, button there puts me into gun mode.
Now I'm going to press and hold this for 3 seconds. Now it's going to prompt me for the PIN (1, 2, 3, and 4). This is 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, fortunately it's a very easy PIN. It comes back "good". Now I have to tell it how long I want to authorise shooting.
So I can go 2 hours, 3, 4. We'll just do 3 hours. And accept. Alright, and now I have a little picture of the gun in my watch face. When I engage grip safety the gun is green and ready to fire.
I'll point out again that green is not the colour we would expect to indicate a ready to fire status in the US. ... The guy who designed it was a gun guy, but anyway, someone made the decision that green means it's ready to fire. And you'll notice that the grip of the gun filled up solid there, that's because I put new batteries in it and that indicates that it has a full battery charge.
By the way, the watch can also do a couple of other things typical of digital watches, ... there's a stopwatch mode in it, and an alarm mode. But the only reason you would wear this thing is so that it will let you shoot your pistol. One other thing that I need to show you is how to change the batteries in your gun. Not something you normally have to do, so you take the magazine out. And then you just push out this little cross pin. This by the way, is a disassembly tool that comes with the pistol. This pin is intended to be easily removable, so you don't need a punch or a tap or anything, it's just easy to push out.
And it's held in place by the back of the magazine floor plate when the magazine's in. With that pin out I can pull the back strap off. And voilà, we have ... the little LED is right there, two AAA batteries. It is worth pointing out that there is nothing actually waterproofing this deal. So I would not recommend using this in the rain. Like, when the hammer is down you've basically just got a funnel here that goes straight into the electronics of the gun.
I don't know that anyone's ever really tested that, because there were never enough of these brought on the market for anyone to do substantial testing with. But ... if you need to change the batteries you then have to go through a separate process to re-synchronise the pistol with the watch.
Which is ... let's see, there we go. "Synchronising the time between the iP1 pistol and the iW1 wristwatch." And then there's also all sorts of stuff for resetting the PIN if you want to, and etc. etc. Now that I've reassembled the pistol we should be good to go.
Except of course when I squeeze the grip safety I'm going to get blue because there's no magazine in it. Put in the magazine, now it should go green, there we go. Starts red, authenticates with the watch, turns green. Now we're good to go. If I take the watch and move it away from my body, now it's red. Bring the watch back, and it turns green. So that's the concept of the Armatix iP1.
It took a while for the iP1 to actually be developed. From about 2006 when Mauch joined the company and started working on it, it wouldn't be until late 2013 that the pistol was introduced in the US. And of course, as one would expect, it made a fair amount of media splash.
... Not just within the firearms media, but in the general media as well. It was [supposed to be, it was going to be] available for sale ... in early 2014. There was one particular shooting range in California that had basically signed on to have a demo range, and kind of be the centre of media evaluation, and ... we'll do some demos of it, and we'll help sell them. Apparently they had not initially realised what the consequences were going to be if this was deemed a smart pistol under New Jersey law. Because it appears that someone told them, and pretty much overnight before the gun actually became available, they memory holed the entire project. They took down all of the signs, they pulled any pistols that they may have had on the shelf. It's unclear if they ever actually had guns like on the shelf to sell, but they pulled them off.
And basically the news media story was, "No, we were never going to sell this. This was all overblown by the company rep. Yeah, there's a picture of it like in a display case, that was taken without our understanding. Totally never going to happen. Go look somewhere else."
And there were a couple of other dealers who showed an interest in selling these things, and were seriously bullied out of doing so, to the point of death threats. Like, people took this really seriously. Now interestingly, ... one of the gun control lobbying groups actually sued New Jersey to force them to deliver a report, as required by ... this smart gun law, deliver a report on whether or not this pistol was a smart gun.
This lawsuit was filed obviously hoping that it would be considered one, and thus would trigger this law. In late 2014 the New Jersey Attorney General actually came out with a determination that this pistol did not meet the criteria of that New Jersey law. Basically because it could be fired by an unauthorised user, because it could be fired by anybody who had the watch close to it.
So if you weren't the authorised user but you stole the watch and the pistol, well, you could still shoot the gun, therefore it didn't meet the ... specifications of the law. Therefore this gun, whether it's available or not, doesn't trigger that cascading effect in New Jersey. But that didn't matter at the time, people weren't paying much attention to that, they were simply making sure that nobody was willing to sell this thing. There is a combination of concern, legitimate concern I would say, over that New Jersey law being triggered. And also an absolute knee-jerk ... negative reaction
to any level of computerised technology being put into firearms. There are a lot of people who have a very significant distrust of anything that technologically advanced, even if it is an incredibly simple electrical circuit, being put into firearms. And you can see the same sort of thing with, for example, Remington's attempt to introduce ... electrically primed, electrically firing rifles. The Remington EtronX was a complete flop for reasons that significantly overlap the issues here. ... So many people just don't want anything electronic in the firearm. There is a really significant value placed on the idea that it is a purely mechanical device, that is immune to the wiles of the modern world, and it's simply, put ammo, gun work. Nothing more substantial than that. So ... back in 2016 ... there was a big media fluff
that the company was going to be releasing its second pistol, a 9mm pistol, I think intended for the police, that would actually use fingerprint authentication. As best I can tell that thing never actually entered the United States. Interestingly Mauch, the designer, was I believe CEO of Armatix when this pistol came out. And not long after this pistol came out, he was very quietly let go from the company completely without any real explanation. But it seems pretty obvious the explanation is this thing cratered so hard, and so badly, and so predictably. Anyone could have been able to tell this company that this was not going to be a successful commercial release in the United States.
But they went ahead, and did it anyway, presumably lost a significant amount of money. And they took the designer, and just ... out he goes. So that is the story of the Armatix iP1. Apparently, basically the only guns that ever came into the country were the ones that were initially brought in for like marketing and demonstration purposes.
There's very few of them, this particular one is a very early serial number, it is one of those guns. And a big thanks to the viewer who loaned it to me. Who apparently found it on some online auction for next to nothing, which is super cool. Yeah, been a lot of fun taking a look at this.
Now I'm really excited to get this thing out to the range. So we're going to go ahead and do that tomorrow. I actually have not fired it yet myself so the suspense is real.
We'll see how it actually does on the range, stick around and check out that video tomorrow. Hopefully you enjoyed this one. Thank you for watching.