June 16, 2004
PHOENIX–Microsoft today unveiled its latest effort to ensure that the Web is accessible “everywhere through everything” and that versions of its Windows operating system become “ubiquitous and necessary, like the air we breathe.” Speaking to a skeptical audience at CUEC (Conference on Ubiquitous and Environmental Computing), CEO Steve Ballmer revealed that Microsoft has acquired rights to the legendary Colt brand and has a custom version of Windows for Handguns currently in beta testing.
Brandishing a prototype “e.Colt,” Ballmer extolled the virtues and conveniences of “wired” firearms: “Now, whenever I have my gun out, I can also check my stock quotes. Bill can still dash off an e-mail to me, and I’ll get it, even if I’m out searching for prowlers in the backyard in my PJs.”
The e.Colt is built around a fully-functional 9mm semi-automatic frame. The grip includes a small, 256-color touchscreen and stowable stylus. All memory, computing and storage functions are handled by a 1 GB CRAM array and low-power Intel Cranium processor. A coiled, under-barrel multi-function antenna permits connection with RF, WAP, IGI, and satellite networks. Running on a custom, embedded version of Windows known as Windows HG, and utilizing full Bluetooth functionality, the e.Colt enables users to engage in most of the most popular Web functions, including browsing with full XML support, e-mail, and voice and data telephony.
Microsoft’s business strategy for the e.Colt includes producing and selling the gun itself, licensing OEM design and manufacture of peripherals, and licensing Windows HG to others in the firearms and munitions industry. “The hardware itself is really cool,” exclaimed Ballmer. “I mean, wow! But we’ve always been more of a software company than a hardware company. The hope is that the industry will pick up on this and run with it. At Microsoft we just want what’s best for the consumer: innovation, and that includes innovation in handguns.”
Ballmer also demonstrated the Kodak Gun-Cam, one of the many peripherals in the works. The small camera plugs into the e.Colt’s USB port and gathers real-time footage through a patented down-the-sights view. “There’s lots of important uses for this,” noted Ballmer. “With Windows HG’s remote firing capability and personal server functionality, you could set your gun up somewhere, then, from anywhere in the world, keep track of what it’s aiming at and, when you’re ready, fire. We expect something like this to be really big for rifle manufacturers interested in building the remote hunting market.”
Remote firing is only one of several “remote” functions enabled by Windows HG. The OS includes a web-configurable and web-accessible gun lock and safety system that makes use of 1,024 bit encrypted keys. “We’re very concerned about gun safety,” explained Ballmer. “In HG we’ve got a key-escrow system to help law-enforcement curtail inappropriate gun use. We keep an updated copy of each of the safety keys on one of our super-safe, super-secure servers. If a cop or somebody has met the proper legal standard and has the right paperwork, we can turn over the key and they can lock-up the gun.”
Ballmer also pointed out the potential usefulness of remote firing and lock-up control for co-ordination of firing in small groups or squads: “Because of Bluetooth, groups of gun-owners can now network their guns together and do things like appoint a squad leader with power to issue a ‘hold fire’ command which would instantly flip the safety on all of the guns in the group.”[p]
Members of the audience at CUEC remained skeptical: “We’re glad when somebody with resources like Microsoft dedicates them to ubiquitous or environmental computing initiatives,” explained one attendee. “The enthusiasm helps draw attention to the field. At the same time, though, their specific plans don’t seem to be in the right spirit. They just don’t get it.”