British-based company e2v has developed a technology that remotely shuts down engines, ruining the prospects of futuristic high-speed car chases.
Real-world car chases aren't usually the Hollywood spectacles we see in movies, but they can still be dangerous for drivers and pedestrians alike. That's why police and military forces, the party poopers, are interested in technologies that skip the "high-speed pursuit" phase and move directly to "successful arrest". Enter the RF Safe-Stop, a prototype developed by British-based tech company e2v. By using radio frequency pulses, the device confuses the electronic systems of modern vehicles, ultimately shutting down the engine so the car can drift to a stop.
"It's a small radar transmitter," said product manager Andy Wood. "The [radio frequency] is pulsed from the unit just as it would be in radar, it couples into the wiring in the car and that disrupts and confuses the electronics in the car causing the engine to stall."
The RF Safe-Stop's current design doesn't look especially portable, but that's partly the point. e2v originally envisioned the device for sensitive military locations and checkpoints, which would prevent unauthorized vehicles (and any weapons they carry) from reaching their targets. Police forces have also evaluated the technology, with Deputy Chief Constable Andy Holt saying it has "potential, but it's very early days yet".
That's not to say the RF Safe-Stop is perfect. Some experts are concerned that the technology won't slow rapidly moving vehicles, while others worry it could disable electronic braking systems. Also, the RF Safe-Stop's current model has no effect on engines that don't rely on electronics, which includes most older vehicles. e2v has responded by saying that the risks are lower compared to other products, that the Safe-Stop shouldn't effect secondary devices like pacemakers, and that it can even be used to safely stop motorbikes and boats.
Even if the RF Safe-Stop isn't developed further, we'll probably see the technology appear in futuristic action films and thrillers very soon. Presumably fictional criminals and terrorists will respond by only driving cars from the 1960s, which at the very least, will make for some visually interesting chase sequences.