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Students propose a new line of defense for police

60-Second Pitch

Robbie Sherrard ’11, a member of the IBE team that created the P2M ReliefAlert mat, listens to a question from a “tiger” on the panel. The mat detects pressure across a seating surface and tells wheelchair users when and where to shift their weight to prevent pressure ulcers from forming.

Five seniors in Lehigh’s IBE (Integrated Business and Engineering) Honors Program have spent a year developing a new “smart gun” technology they believe will help safeguard the lives of police officers.

According to FBI statistics, the students say, 8 percent of police officers killed in the line of duty are struck down when their own gun is used against them. The new product would eliminate these deaths by preventing anyone but an officer from firing the officer’s gun.

The students—Andrew Dutcher, Peter Wopperer, Sushan Zheng, Ethan Baer and John Thompson—were one of six IBE teams to make 90-minute pitches this week before a panel of business consultants and venture capitalists. The panelists have earned a reputation as relentless interrogators; one former student said making the presentation was “like going into a cage and being clawed by tigers.”

(To hear members of each of this year’s teams talk about their IBE projects, watch the accompanying video.)

The presentation, hosted by Ben Franklin Technology Partners, culminates a yearlong IBE project, in which IBE student teams design, make and market a product for a company. The gun-safety team worked with Everlokt Corp. of Allentown, Pa., which makes security technology and keyless entry systems for residences.

Face to face with the tigers

The Everlokt device “personalizes” a gun to its owner with a voltage tag attached to the owner’s body. The metal tag, which can be worn on a necklace, transmits a voltage signal to a receiver that disengages a safety lock inside the gun. The process takes microseconds. Disengagement occurs only if the person holding the gun is wearing the voltage tag or touching the person who is wearing it.

The new device, say the Everlokt students, is superior to existing technologies, which use radio frequency waves and allow a gun to be discharged if a perpetrator is within a few feet of its owner.

The Everlokt team interviewed gun manufacturers, gun owners, police officers and members of the military.

The tigers challenged the students’ estimates regarding the investment needed to launch the product and said it might be more effective to sell the technology to a well-known gun manufacturer than to license it.

The toughest questions came from Bill Bachenberg, CEO of DBSi, a provider of disaster-recovery services, who sits on the board of directors of the National Rifle Association.

“A technology like this has to work 100 percent of the time,” said Bachenberg. “One failure and you’re out of business.

“Can a polymer [plastic] gun transmit signals?”

“We would have to modify the handle,” said Dutcher.

“How about the back-up gun most officers carry?”

“The technology can be used in multiple guns.”

“Where are you going to put all the electronics?”

“The electronics are the size of a credit card now,” said Zheng, “and can be reduced down to a thumbnail. This is not bulky like other systems.”

What did the students take away from the project?

“I learned the information you get from interviewing people in person is much more useful than what you find on the Internet,” said Zheng.

“The tigers were intimidating, especially Bill Bachenberg,” said Dutcher. “I learned you have to stay true to your convictions.”

The IBE student teams are advised by Pat Costa, professor of practice in the IBE program.


Photo by Douglas Benedict

 

Story by Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010

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