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New gadget immobilises cars with electronic pulse

Tue, 03 Dec 2013

It might sound futuristic, but British technology company E2V has developed a prototype gadget capable of remotely stopping a car using a burst of electromagnetic radiation.

Although it does appear to be a piece of equipment from the ‘James Bond bad guy’ locker, this technology really does work and could be used by police forces in the future.

On Bing: see pictures of speeding carsHow motoring convictions affect your car insurance

So bank robbers beware – even speeders, too. This futuristic gadget could see you shut down, picked up by the law and caught red handed.

How does the car-immobilising RF Safe-Stop technology work?

Called RF Safe-Stop, the device uses a special frequency of radio waves to disable electrical circuits in a car vital to its movement.

By activating the component, a small radar transmitter sends out a burst of electromagnetic radiation, which "disrupts and confuses" the car’s electronic systems responsible for the engine, forcing its motor to stall.

Despite reservations by some experts in the field, by instigating the engine shut down this way, the driver still retains control of the vehicle’s steering and brakes – as shown in prototype testing – meaning the safety risk is kept to a minimum.

What happens when the RF Safe-Stop disables a car?

E2V recently gave the BBC a demonstration of its product in a controlled environment on a disused airfield.

Researchers compiled a range of second-hand cars and motorbikes to test the technology, driving each vehicle into a specially designated stopping zone before activating the device.

According to the drivers and riders, once the switch was flicked on the RF Safe-Stop, the vehicles began to slow from the controlled 15mph speed, gently coasting to a halt.

The drivers also reported that the pulse affected the digital devices recording pictures and sound of the test.

What is the RF Safe-Stop’s range?

E2V isn’t revealing data on the specifics of the technology, as a number of companies are currently involved in a battle to get the gadget to market first.

However, experts from Engineer magazine have mused that the RF Safe-Stop relies on L- and S-band radio waves, used for anything from military communications, DAB digital radio broadcasts, mobile phone networks and wireless router signals.

The frequency the RF Safe-Stop operates on is outside of commonly used and legally enforced parameters, however.

Thought to work at a range of up 50 metres from the car in question, thankfully this rules out any safety implications for low flying aircraft – the technology is also apparently safe for people fitted with a pacemaker.

But with the typical following distance at the national speed limit less than 50 metres, use in fighting crime could throw up some issues in disabling law-abiding motorists’ cars.

Who will use the RF Safe-Stop?

We’re sure those kinks will be well and truly ironed out should we ever see it being used by the fine men and women in blue, however.

Alongside the police, it’s believed the RF Safe-Stop’s primary use could be as a non-lethal military weapon to defend tactically important sites, with the technology designed to incapacitate suspicious vehicles refusing to stop.

Are there any vehicles not affected by the RF Safe-Stop?

The RF Safe-Stop isn’t completely infallible, however. The technology relies upon electronic ignition in a car’s engine in order to disrupt the signal and disable the car.

That means classic cars with carburettors or mechanical fuel injection won’t necessarily be affected – we’re talking classic Land Rover Defenders and original Ford Cortinas, that sort of thing.

So, it seems if you want to do a bank job in the future, you might need to go back to the past. Could we see a return to the bank robbers favourite, the classic Ford Transit van?

Maybe, but it’s thought the electronic pulse weapon is a long way off from viable use in the public domain.

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By Sean Carson, contributor, MSN Cars