Title:
Firearm safety system
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Use of a handgun is achieved by having a user wear a passive unique RF tag that may be imbedded in a ring on the shooting hand of the user, a wristband, etc. The RF tag is designed to communicate with an RF system embedded in the stock of a firearm. The RF system includes a battery powered micro-controller, a watchdog timer that pings the surrounding area seeking a pre-programmed unique RF code, an RF coil, a programming port, RF interface circuitry, a latching actuator, and a latch. If the RF tag matches the RF code then the latch actuator releases the latch that engages a mechanical firing mechanism and allows the firearm to be discharged. The firearm remains active as long as the RF tag and RF code remain within range of the RF system and is returned to safe mode when the RF tag is no longer detected.



Inventors:
Cain, Russell P. (Columbia, MD, US)
Lennon, Andrew M. (Bel Air, MD, US)
Carkhuff, Bliss G. (Laurel, MD, US)
Application Number:
09/838046
Publication Date:
10/25/2001
Filing Date:
04/19/2001
Assignee:
CAIN RUSSELL P.
LENNON ANDREW M.
CARKHUFF BLISS G.
Primary Class:
International Classes:
F41A17/06; (IPC1-7): F41A17/00
View Patent Images:
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20070144052Reticle and method for usingJune, 2007Smith III
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20020178635Dischargeable hand weapons having reduced criminal usefulnessDecember, 2002Martin



Primary Examiner:
BUCKLEY, DENISE J
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Office of Patent Counsel (Laurel, MD, US)
Claims:
1. A firearm safety system, comprising: a microcontroller; a firing mechanism; a latch, coupled to said firing mechanism, obstructing said firing mechanism; a latch actuator, coupled to said latch, for arming or disarming said firing mechanism; an RF communication subsystem that pings the surrounding area to detect a code from a passive RF tag in the vicinity, and, upon detection of said code, said RF communication subsystem relays the detected code to said micro-controller; a computational subsystem including said micro-controller that receives said detected code from said RF communication subsystem and compares the detected code to a pre-programmed code stored in said micro-controller, and if the detected code matches the pre-programmed code, said micro-controller sends out a control signal; and a mechanical actuation subsystem that receives said control signal from said computational subsystem wherein said control signal causes said latch actuator to release said latch, said latch obstructing said firing mechanism prior to reception of said control signal such that the firearm is inoperable until said latch is released.

2. The system of claim 1 further comprising a programming port coupled to said micro-controller, said programming port allowing an external device to access and program codes into said micro-controller.

3. The system of claim 2 wherein said micro-controller can be programmed with multiple codes.

4. A firearm safety system utilizing wireless RF communication, comprising: a mechanical firing mechanism; a latch, operatively connected to said mechanical firing mechanism, capable of obstructing said mechanical firing mechanism within the firearm; a latch actuator coupled with said latch, said latch actuator disengaging said latch from said mechanical firing mechanism in response to a control signal; an RF interface including an RF coil; and a programmable micro-controller coupled with said RF interface and said latch actuator, said micro-controller: causing said RF interface to ping the surrounding area to detect a unique code emitted by a passive RF tag, verifying that a detected code matches a code pre-programmed into said micro-controller; and sending said control signal to said latch actuator only when said code detected by said RF interface matches a code pre-programmed into said micro-controller.

5. The system of claim 4 further comprising a programming port coupled with said micro-controller, said programming port allowing an external device to access and program codes into said micro-controller.

6. The system of claim 5 wherein said micro-controller can be programmed with multiple codes.

7. A firearm safety system, comprising: a firing mechanism for enabling said firearm; means for pinging the area surrounding the firearm to detect a code; means for relaying the detected code to a micro-controller upon detection of said code; means for comparing the detected code to a pre-programmed code stored in said micro-controller; means for causing said micro-controller to send out a control signal if the detected code matches the pre-programmed code; and means for releasing a latch in response to said control signal, said latch obstructing said firing mechanism prior to reception of said control signal such that the firearm is inoperable until said latch is released.

8. The system of claim 7 further comprising means for allowing an external device to access and program codes into said micro-controller.

9. The system of claim 8 wherein said micro-controller can be programmed with multiple codes.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

[0001] This application claims the benefit of prior filed co-pending U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/198,968, filed on Apr. 21, 2000.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0002] The present invention relates to a firearm safety system, and more particularly to a firearm safety system for semi-automatic handguns wherein the gun grip contains a mechanical latch mechanism or in revolvers wherein the gun grip and/or stock contains a mechanical latch mechanism that is wirelessly controlled by RF circuitry that senses the presence of a passive RF transponder tag.

[0003] Gun safety is a paramount concern for law enforcement and the public alike. One of the most pressing concerns relates to the unauthorized use of a firearm and/or the accidental discharge of a firearm, especially by children.

[0004] Numerous mechanical devices addressing firearm safety are known. Most are purely mechanical in nature. Some, however, are more than mechanical. U.S. Pat. No. 5,016,376 entitled “Magnetic Actuated Firearms Locking Mechanism” discloses a magneto-mechanical system for firearm safety.

[0005] The '376 patent uses a magnetic field to actuate a pair of magnetic relays (switches). The magnetic field required to actuate each switch is different thereby creating a limited range of magnetic field strengths that will allow the firearm to be discharged. Initially, the configuration is set to the safe mode in that the first switch is open and the second switch is closed. Both switches need to be closed for the firearm to be discharged. A lower threshold magnetic field strength is required to pull the first switch into the closed position. This lower threshold field strength is not strong enough, however, to pull the second switch out of the closed position and into an open position. If the magnetic field strength surpasses an upper threshold, then the second switch will be pulled away from the closed position into an open position rendering the firearm inoperable again. Thus, only magnetic field strengths falling between the lower and upper thresholds can keep both switches in the closed position allowing the firearm to be discharged.

[0006] Magnetic actuation, however, is difficult to control since the strength of the magnetic field is dependent on proximity, positioning, magnet age, and other environmental factors. Moreover, the '376 patent can be accidentally actuated if an unknown magnetic source within the threshold limits of the system is present.

[0007] The '376 patent mentions the use of an encoding “chip” in a ring, but offers no disclosure of how to “code” a magnetic field. The inventors of the present invention are not aware of any methodology for accurately encoding a magnetic field. Moreover, the mention of codes in the '376 patent (col. 4, line 3) refers generally to contact magnetic readers. The '376 patent does not utilize or disclose a “computer chip” for decoding purposes. Rather, decoding is achieved via an electrical circuit switch block that operates only when a particular magnetic field strength is present. Thus, the '376 patent is unclear how coded communications would occur.

[0008] What is needed is a wireless programmable codable system for actuating a mechanical latch in a firearm.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0009] Nearly all semi-automatic handguns use a slide to load a round (bullet) into the chamber from the magazine. If the slide action can be stopped, then the firearm cannot be loaded, and hence cannot be discharged. In the case of a revolver, a slide to load a round into the chamber is not used. Rather, the action of the hammer must be impeded in order to safety the firearm. The present invention discloses a wireless RF system that senses the proximity of a passive RF tag programmed with a unique code. Detection of the code controls a latch that engages or disengages with the slide (semi-automatic handgun) or hammer (revolver) making it either impossible or possible to discharge the firearm.

[0010] Use of a handgun is achieved by having the user wear a passive RF tag. The passive RF tag may be imbedded in a ring on the shooting hand of the user or on a wristband. Other alternatives for wearing the passive RF tag in close proximity, approximately 2-6 inches at maximum, and preferably within 2-3 inches, to the firearm may be used without departing from the spirit or scope of the present invention.

[0011] The passive RF tag worn by the user is designed to communicate with an RF system embedded into the stock of a firearm. Existing firearms can be easily retrofitted to include the RF system. The RF system contained within the firearm is comprised of a battery powered micro-controller (computer chip), an RF coil, a programming port, RF interface circuitry, a latching actuator, and a latch. The micro-controller includes a watchdog timer that pings the surrounding area seeking a pre-programmed unique RF code. The passive RF tag has a unique code that is transmitted back to the micro-controller for verification. If the code emitted by the passive RF tag matches the code expected by the RF system contained in the firearm, then the latch actuator operates to release the latch that engages a mechanical firing mechanism within the firearm thereby allowing the firearm to be discharged. The gun remains active so long as the passive RF tag and unique code remain within range of the RF system contained in the firearm. The firearm is returned to safe mode when the RF system contained in the firearm can no longer detect the passive RF tag's unique code.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0012] FIG. 1 illustrates one example of a passive RF tag embedded into a ring.

[0013] FIG. 2 illustrates the RF system that is to be fitted into the stock of a firearm.

[0014] FIG. 3 illustrates a profile view of the RF system that is to be fitted into the stock of a firearm.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

[0015] A passive RF tag is designed to communicate with an RF system embedded in the stock of a firearm. Existing fire arms are easily retrofitted to include the RF system. The RF tag is preferably embedded into an article that is worn by the user such as a ring or a wristband. The RF tag is comprised of an RF coil, RF pick-up circuitry, and encoder circuitry. The RF system contained within the firearm is comprised of a battery powered micro-controller, an RF coil, a programming port, RF interface circuitry, a latching actuator, and a latch. The micro-controller includes a watchdog timer that pings the surrounding area seeking a pre-programmed unique RF code. The passive RF tag has a unique code that is transmitted back to the micro-controller for verification. If the code emitted by the passive RF tag matches a code expected by the micro-controller within the firearm, then the latch actuator operates to release the latch that engages a mechanical firing mechanism within the firearm allowing the firearm to be discharged. The firearm remains active as long as the passive RF tag and unique code remain within range of the RF system contained in the firearm. The range between the RF tag and RF system should be between 2 to 6 inches maximum, and preferably, between 2-3 inches. The RF tag could be further away from the RF system, however, the further away the more power is required and thus a bigger a battery is required. The firearm is returned to a safe mode when the RF system contained in the firearm can no longer detect the proper unique code.

[0016] FIG. 1 illustrates one example of a passive RF tag embedded into a ring. The ring 10 is embedded with an RF coil 12, an RF pick-up circuit 14, and an encoder 16. The encoding in the ring 10 is provided by a simple integrated circuit with either a preprogrammed or re-programmable ID. When brought into close proximity of a firearm, the ring's RF pick-up circuit 14 becomes active using power obtained from the ping signal emitted by the RF system contained within the firearm. The ring 10 then transmits a signal containing a unique code via the ring's RF coil 12 to the RF system contained within the firearm. The ring 10 is characterized as passive rather than active because it requires no internal power source. Instead, the RF pick-up circuit 14 and RF coil 12 in the ring 10 obtain power from the pinging signal.

[0017] A passive RF tag need not be in the form of a ring, but could be embedded into a wristband or any other device that can be comfortably held in close proximity to the firearm.

[0018] FIG. 2 illustrates one example of an RF system that is to be fitted into the stock of a firearm. The RF system is attached to a mounting plate 20 that is, in turn, fixably inserted into the stock of the firearm using a set of screws 21 or the like. One-way screws can be used in order to prevent the removal of the RF system from the firearm. The RF system mounted within the firearm can be functionally separated into three subsystems including a mechanical actuation subsystem, an RF communication subsystem, and a computational subsystem.

[0019] The mechanical actuation subsystem is comprised of a latch actuator 22 and a latch 24. The latch 24 rotates about a pivot 26 and physically engages and disengages with a firing mechanism (not shown) within the firearm such that when the latch 24 is engaged with the firing mechanism the firearm cannot be discharged. When the latch 24 is disengaged from the firing mechanism the firearm can be discharged. The latch 24 is controlled by the latch actuator 22. The latch actuator 22 is, in turn, connected with a micro-controller 28 that, among other functions, sends a control signal to the latch actuator 22.

[0020] The control signal is capable of causing the latch actuator 22 to mechanically move the latch 24 such that latch 24 disengages from a firing mechanism within the firearm. When the latch actuator 22 is activated upon receipt of the control signal, a piston 30 that is connected to a pivot point at the center of a two bar assembly 32, 34 retracts. The first bar 32 is pinned at one end to the mounting plate 20. The second bar 34 is pinned to the latch 24. As the piston 30 retracts, the two bar assembly 32, 34 collapses pulling the latch 24 downward such that the latch 24 rotates about its pivot 26 and disengages from the firing mechanism. When the control signal is no longer present (or if the battery loses its charge), the latch actuator 22 causes the piston 30 to extend which lifts the latch 24 back into an engagement position with the firing mechanism thereby preventing the firearm from being discharged. The latch actuator 22 is mechanically biased so that the piston 30 is extended in the absence of power to the system, locking the gun in a safe mode. Moreover, any attempt to force the mechanical actuation subsystem results in stress to the stops and housing and not to the latch actuator 22.

[0021] The mechanical actuation subsystem described above may be augmented by those of ordinary skill in the art without departing from the spirit or scope of the present invention. Thus, the particular description of the mechanical actuation subsystem is not intended to be limiting, it is merely used as an example.

[0022] For a semi-automatic handgun, the firing mechanism is typically a slide that loads a round into the chamber of the firearm. For a revolver, the firing mechanism is typically a hammer. The mechanical system is typically defaulted to a safe mode meaning that the latch 24 engages the slide or hammer such that the slide or hammer is prevented from operating as it would normally.

[0023] As mentioned earlier, the latch actuator 22 is controlled by a micro-controller 28. The micro-controller 28 is essentially a computer chip connected with an RF interface 36 and the latch actuator 22.

[0024] The RF communication subsystem is responsible for providing the wireless communications between the RF system within the firearm and the passive RF tag 10 worn by the user. The RF interface 36 is communicable with the micro-controller 28 and the passive RF tag 10. The RF system is powered by a pair of removable 3V batteries 38. An RF coil 40 is wound around the perimeter of the two batteries 38. The RF system itself is kept in a power saving sleep mode in order to prolong battery life.

[0025] The first task of the micro-controller 28 is to cause the RF interface 36 to ping the surrounding area for the presence of a unique code. A watchdog timer is utilized by the micro-controller 28 to cause the RF interface 36 and RF coil 40 combination to “ping” the surrounding area at pre-determined intervals, typically once per second. The RF interface 36 and RF coil 40 combination await a response to the pinging. If a code is detected by the RF interface 36 in response to the pinging, the micro-controller 28 “wakes up” from sleep mode and the computational subsystem is activated.

[0026] The computational subsystem compares the code received from the passive RF tag 10 against a code or range of codes that are pre-programmed into the micro-controller 28 via a programming port 42. If the received code matches one of the codes programmed into the micro-controller 28, then the micro-controller 28 will send a control signal to the latch actuator 22 to release the latch 24 allowing the firearm to be discharged as previously described.

[0027] The computational subsystem also is connected with the programming port 42. The programming port 42 allows outside access to the micro-controller 28 for the purpose of setting, deleting, changing, or otherwise altering the code or codes stored by the micro-controller 28 that allows the firearm to be discharged. Use of multiple codes is warranted in certain situations. For instance, at a gun club or firing range, a firearm can be programmed to accept several codes in order to allow the different members of the club to use the firearm. It is presumed that each member would have his or her own passive RF tag and unique code.

[0028] FIG. 3 illustrates a profile view of the RF system that is to be fitted into the stock of a firearm. The entire RF system readily fits into the stock of a handgun and is less than 5 mm thick. The RF coil 40 is shown in cross-section at either end of batteries 38. A battery cover 44 provides access to the batteries 38 for replacement purposes. A printed circuit board 46 provides the connection between the RF interface 36 and the micro-controller 28 onto which they are wired.

[0029] Additionally, the RF system power supply can be connected to the original gun safety switch or to an added external switch. The purpose of this switch is to completely power down the entire system leaving the gun in safe mode for long term storage. Upon release of the original mechanical safety or external switch, the RF system would power up and begin “pinging” for a valid code contained in a passive RF tag.

[0030] One advantage of the present invention is that it consumes relatively little power. This is primarily due to the effective range of the system and the default sleep mode. Since we are purposely limiting the system to a very close range, the power needed to ping the surrounding area for a signal is very small. As a result, the battery life of the system is prolonged.

[0031] By using a computational-based system in the present application, RF identification tags with 64 or more bits are available for unique codes making it very difficult to break a code.

[0032] The firearm's RF system occupies a relatively thin profile (less than 5 mm). The compactness results in the ability to retrofit existing firearms at a relatively low cost. Moreover, since the safety mechanism is embedded within the firearm, it is relatively tamper resistant. The present invention can also be retrofitted and installed into the handle of existing firearms with little or no modifications to the housing. In the case of revolvers, installation would require no modifications and the system would readily fit into the empty area of the stock allowing the latch mechanism to interfere with hammer action. In the case of semi-automatic firearms, the system would fit in the grip of the stock and the latch mechanism could interfere with either the hammer action or the slide. A semi-automatic would require a small modification to the slide (a notch cut) or slightly more modifications to the hammer.

[0033] The present invention also provides the ability to program a firearm to accept several different, yet unique user codes. Thus, users could program several passive RF tags to the same gun or to several guns. This would be particularly useful in gun ranges or clubs where only qualified users could use specific weapons or for owners of several guns. This would also apply to any applications where multiple users use the same gun(s).

[0034] In the following claims, any means-plus-function clauses are intended to cover the structures described herein as performing the recited function and not only structural equivalents but also equivalent structures. Therefore, it is to be understood that the foregoing is illustrative of the present invention and is not to be construed as limited to the specific embodiments disclosed, and that modifications to the disclosed embodiments, as well as other embodiments, are intended to be included within the scope of the appended claims. The invention is defined by the following claims, with equivalents of the claims to be included therein.





 
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