The Future Of Crime Fighting Includes Radio Waves That Stop Cars

By Joelle Renstrom | Updated

RCWho can forget (if you were around back then) OJ Simpson’s famous high-speed chase? Actually, it was more of a low-speed chase, given the congestion of Los Angeles’ Interstate 405 and the fear that Simpson would commit suicide rather than submit to authorities. Anyway, I remember watching OJ in that white Bronco, and scores of police cars and helicopters chasing him. But what if the police had been able to push a button to disable Simpson’s car, ending the chase before it even began?

Police in France, Germany, and Spain have requested that SAVELEC (Safe Control of Noncooperative Vehicles Through Electromagnetic Means) develop such a device, and the UK electronics firm E2V has already tested one. The technology would allow police to use radio waves to incapacitate cars’ control computers, which would bring targeted vehicles to a sudden stop.

SAVELEC’s goal is to provide law enforcement with a way of stopping a “noncooperative” vehicle in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone in or around the vehicle. Their device uses electromagnetic pulses and high-power radiowaves to disrupt the car’s functioning so that it slows down and stops. It sounds like what the cylons did to render the high-tech Viper Mark VIIs useless, causing the fleet to revert back to the old Vipers. Although instead of frying the cars’ systems, SAVELEC’s device will only temporarily disable them.

SAVELEC milestones

SAVELEC acknowledges that their device will have to pass European regulations and legislation when it comes to the potential effects of exposing people, including the police themselves, to electromagnetic pulses and radiowaves. While drivers won’t be able to feel what happening, they may hear it, per the Frey effect. They’ll also need to test what happens when the cars become disabled, and to what extent it’s possible to control them. Depending on the surroundings, it may not be safe to simply bring a suspect’s vehicle to a grinding halt. If SAVELEC passes all tests and adheres to all regulations, it could extend this technology to motorcycles and trucks.

The UK system, RF Safe-Stop, uses a transmitter to send microwave pulses at a vehicle. The vehicle’s wiring serves as an antenna, which forces the engine control unit to reset itself over and over, stopping the car. Just last week engineers successfully demonstrated the system in Worcestershire.

SAVELEC’s literal crime-stopping project has gone through a few technology reviews and will soon begin work on developing a prototype of the device, which they hope to have completed by 2016. The prototype will be tested in a lab, and then eventually in field trials with actual cars. What’s OJ up to these days? Maybe he’d be willing to be a test pilot.