Friday, December 05, 2008

Extra-Zapping X26's

Sometimes it seems like tasers are trying to wear out the FAIL idiom. A new study has found that some X26 tasers come with extra, not to specification, zapping power:
The abnormal X26 model Tasers were manufactured before 2005, prompting some scientists to suggest police should stop using any older versions of the stun guns until they can be tested.

Of the 41 Tasers tested, four delivered significantly more current than Taser International says is possible. In some cases, the current was up to 50 per cent stronger than specified on the devices.

And there are plenty of other stunning goodies in the article.

Take this from an engineer involved in the study:

Savard told CBC News it is scientifically significant that about nine per cent of the Tasers fired in the tests delivered more current than they are supposed to do, especially since he believes no one is verifying the company’s claims.

"I think it's important because Taser is not subjected to international standards," Savard said.

"When you use a cellphone, well, cellphones have to respect a set of standards … for the electric magnetic field that it emits. The Taser, well, nobody knows except Taser International."

Savard said the cause of the increased current could be either due to faulty quality control during the stun guns' manufacturing or electrical components that deteriorate with age.

Yeah, that's what some of us have been saying for a while: there are no widespread regulations for tasers. Taser International is a business. Unless it's forced to, how motivated will a business be to regulate itself via thorough and potentially costly safety testing?

So what's Taser International's response to this situation? You'd bet that they would express deep concern and commit themselves to testing and fixing as many of their devices as possible. You'd lose that bet:

However, Magne Nerheim, Taser's vice-president of research and development, sent a written response to the results, in which he called the four malfunctioning Tasers an anomaly — one that could be explained if the weapons are not spark tested on a regular basis.

Nerheim also suggested the testing be repeated to verify the results. He made no comment about the age of the Tasers and whether there could be an issue of reliability.

During the tests commissioned by CBC News and Radio-Canada, three of the weapons didn't fire, even with charged battery packs. Those were set aside and not counted in the final results.

That's 3 out of 40 weapons not firing. Given the small sample size of this study, that's not too far from the 1 out of 20 failure rate that I posted about yesterday. Also, given the small sample size of the study at hand and Taser International's non-response, forgive me if I'm suspicious of X26 tasers even if they were made after 2005.

Recent taser developments would make me a nervous police officer, a grouchy taxpayer, and a really nervous Taser International shareholder.