Just about every cop who has ever been the primary unit in a vehicle pursuit has wished he had some magical method to disable the fleeing car at a distance, making it impossible for the bad guy to continue. That day might not be all that far away.
A UK-based company called e2v has developed a system capable of being mounted on a car that will “confuse” the electronics of another vehicle enough that the car will stop functioning. The device works from as far as 50 meters (164 feet) away.
The product is called RF Safe-Stop. It uses a pulse of L Band (1 to 2 GHz) and S Band (2 to 4 GHz) microwave energy to disrupt the electronics of the target vehicle’s components.
Modern cars are full of electronics, and won’t function without them. Vehicles manufactured prior to the 1980s were relatively free of microprocessors and complex electronics, but as electronic fuel injection replaced carburetors and virtually every automotive function was delegated to some kind of computer, they became more efficient, but also more vulnerable to electromagnetic interference.
The degree to which we depend on semiconductors has increased exponentially in the past 30 to 40 years. One of the scarier doomsday scenarios involves the use of a huge electromagnetic pulse (EMP), which could be generated by a nuclear weapon. A sufficiently large EMP could fry the electronics in all our devices and plunge us into a pre-industrial economy. A worst-case (and extremely depressing) scenario is described in William K. Forstchen’s book One Second After .
RF Safe-Stop won’t fry the electronics in a car, but will disrupt them long enough to physically stop the vehicle. The prototype runs on a battery that is continuously trickle-charged from the electrical system of the vehicle that carries it. e2v estimates about a 10 percent duty cycle, meaning that an operator could issue a pulse for about 12 minutes every two hours of use. Unlike the broadcast EMP a nuclear weapon would produce, the energy from RF Safe-Stop is directed and focused so that other nearby electronics (including those in the carrier vehicle) won’t be affected.
Because this is a product in development, there are no units for sale at present, and therefore no cost estimates. A production model might be mounted on a few vehicles in a fleet, with those detailed to assist when a pursuit occurred.
Fantasy Come to Life
When I read about RF Safe-Stop, I flashed on the memory of the Bat-Ray from the 1960s Batman TV show. Unlike the dark, brooding Batman movies of the 1980s and since, the TV show was basically a cartoon with live actors. Everything in the Bat Cave, on the Batmobile, and even on Batman’s utility belt had a large label, always starting with “Bat-” (Bat-computer, Bat-analyzer, Bat-gas, Bat-arang, Bat-rope, etc.).
A big red button on the dashboard of the Batmobile was for the Bat-Ray that would disable a fleeing car’s ignition and stop it instantly.
Most of Batman’s other crime-fighting inventions haven’t come to fruition, but the day of the Bat-Ray may soon be upon us.