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RF Safe-Stop Shuts Down Car Engines With Radio Pulse 549

Posted by Soulskill
from the i'll-order-a-dozen dept.
An anonymous reader writes with news of a device built by a company in the U.K. which uses pulses of electromagnetic energy to disrupt the electronic systems of modern cars, causing them to shut down and cut the engine. Here's a description of how it works: "At one end of a disused runway, E2V assembled a varied collection of second-hand cars and motorbikes in order to test the prototype against a range of vehicles. In demonstrations seen by the BBC a car drove towards the device at about 15mph (24km/h). As the vehicle entered the range of the RF Safe-stop, its dashboard warning lights and dials behaved erratically, the engine stopped and the car rolled gently to a halt. Digital audio and video recording devices in the vehicle were also affected.''It's a small radar transmitter,' said Andy Wood, product manager for the machine. 'The RF [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.'"
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RF Safe-Stop Shuts Down Car Engines With Radio Pulse

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  • Just wait until... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Subgenius (95662) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:05PM (#45587537) Homepage

    those high-powered NSA satellites can do this from orbit. No, this is NOT meant to be a troll post. I wonder if a country could actually orbit a satellite with enough power and a spot beam to stop cars in an entire city... in the name of anti-terrorism, of course.

    • those high-powered NSA satellites can do this from orbit. No, this is NOT meant to be a troll post. I wonder if a country could actually orbit a satellite with enough power and a spot beam to stop cars in an entire city... in the name of anti-terrorism, of course.

      Seems like a whole lot of trouble to go to, when an EMP would have exactly the same effect, and is a problem that was solved decades ago....

      Even in TFS, this device doesn't target cars specifically, it zapped all of the electronics *in* the car, too.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Even in TFS, this device doesn't target cars specifically, it zapped all of the electronics *in* the car, too.

        I think this would merely disrupt. I believe a full on EMP would actually destroy the electronics.

        So, in theory at least, you don't wreck every bit of electronics you aim this thing at. Because if police start damaging people's cars for no good reason, there will be hell to pay as people get pissed off at ending up with a huge repair bill -- especially if the officer is mistaken or you're just coll

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by phrostie (121428)

      sucks for those with a pacemaker

      • by whoever57 (658626)
        The article claims:

        The firm added that it did not believe the RF Safe-Stop posed any risk to people using a pacemaker.

        Clearly nothing for those pacemaker-carrying luddites to worry about. I mean, the company that created this can't possbly be wrong in their belief that it won't affect pacemakers.

    • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:51PM (#45588271)

      those high-powered NSA satellites can do this from orbit.

      . Five words: wavelength. Antenna size. Beam width.

  • This kind of thing would be ripe for abuse, but how many times have we heard/read about police chases which result in massive collateral damage and people getting killed?

    I'm torn, but this seems like a really good thing for police to have. Especially if it can be directed so that it only affects the target.

    • Re:Pros vs Cons (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mlts (1038732) * on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:14PM (#45587667)

      There will be a lot of blowback from this device:

      1: As mentioned above, if it fries pacemakers, insulin pumps, or heart plugs, how will wrongful death lawsuits be handled?

      2: If used on a motorcycle, it can mean the rider can lose control, causing a crash, fatality, and lawsuits.

      3: If used on a car, most cars are drive-by-wire. This means that brakes and steering will be made inoperable in some cars, causing an instant wreck... and subsequent lawsuits. Other cars will still have mechanical brakes and steering, but most people are used to power-assisted brakes and steering... and having their vehicle handle way differently can also cause a wreck... and lawsuit.

      4: What happens if another car is hit? Radio waves can be directed in unexpected places. Yet another wreck possiblity and lawsuit.

      5: Of course, the bad guys will have this technology sooner or later. Now, watch stretches of I-10 become nice kill zones for thieves who are desiring either pickup trucks for Mexican drug runs, or just to pop caps in people once their car is stopped to get soldier status in their gang.

      Bad idea all around... well all but for the attorneys who will make a mint from this.

      • About your point #3, can you make an example of a currently commercially available car without a steering column? I don't think they exist.

        • by mlts (1038732) *

          Infiniti Q50?

        • Re:Pros vs Cons (Score:4, Interesting)

          by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:34PM (#45587975) Homepage Journal
          Are fly by wire brakes even legal? It was my understanding that there must always be a mechanical linkage between the brake pedal and the brakes, just to give you a hail mary if your brake booter craps out.
        • Re:Pros vs Cons (Score:4, Informative)

          by punker (320575) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:36PM (#45587993)

          I think he may have been reappropriating the term "drive by wire". It would not be in reference to the ford "drive by wire" system (electronic control system that appears the same as a traditional mechanical column). More likely meaning that power steering and power breaking require the engine chip to be functioning to operate.

          And he is correct that those subsystems cut out with the engine. My vehicle recently had a vacuum leak. The engine stalled out as I was breaking. No power steering, no power breaking. It was not a good situation. The car behind me very nearly plowed into me when the light flipped to green.

        • by jimicus (737525)

          He doesn't need to.

          A car with power steering has MUCH heavier steering when the power steering's failed versus an equivalent model that never had power steering fitted in the first place. To the point where even steering a moving vehicle is damn hard work.

      • by Sarten-X (1102295)

        1. Lawsuits will be handled by the lawyers, but they'll be pretty bored, because the EMTs will handle the people having heart attacks at a traffic stop.

        2. Or the rider could just slow down to a stop like any other vehicle.

        3. [citation needed]. The first drive-by-wire cars are just coming out now [wired.com], and they still have mechanical fallbacks.

        4. Lawyers again, but since this is a device with push-button control (rather than a slow manual deployment like spike strips), the officer in charge can abort the operation

      • Re:Pros vs Cons (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:28PM (#45587885)

        5: Of course, the bad guys will have this technology sooner or later. Now, watch stretches of I-10 become nice kill zones for thieves who are desiring either pickup trucks for Mexican drug runs, or just to pop caps in people once their car is stopped to get soldier status in their gang.

        I was thinking this too. Also, I shudder at the thought of some, say, 14 year old kids getting their hands on a cheap device that can do this and thinking it's "fun" to stop random cars while hiding behind a bush with no thought given to the consequences. I've read about kids throwing heavy and dangerous objects from heights onto unsuspecting people/cars below them. I'm sure this will appeal to the same people.

      • by afidel (530433)

        Police officers using lawful force in the course of their duties are generally immune from lawsuits, as are the departments that hire them. It's not like stop sticks, tazers, batons, teargas, flashbangs or firearms are inherently safe but we allow law enforcement to use them against suspected criminals on a daily basis.

      • by myth24601 (893486)

        Power brakes work on engine vacuum and should give a couple of normal pumps without any difference after the engine stops and then they will work un-powered and just require more effort.

        Turn off your car and pump the brakes and you can see how this works.

      • Re:Pros vs Cons (Score:5, Informative)

        by couchslug (175151) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @05:13PM (#45588557)

        "2: If used on a motorcycle, it can mean the rider can lose control, causing a crash, fatality, and lawsuits."

        MC mechanic of many years here.
        Not especially likely. MCs aren't drive-by-wire other than EFI and engine shutdown takes out no control systems. Manual steering and brake make for simple stopping when your engine quits.

        "3: If used on a car, most cars are drive-by-wire."

        No, they are not. Most have power-assisted but mechanically linked steering and brakes. If you are trying to stop someone in a high-speed chase shutting them down is far safer than chasing them until they crash.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Antipater (2053064)

      how many times have we heard/read about police chases which result in massive collateral damage and people getting killed?

      Not all that many?

    • Re:Pros vs Cons (Score:5, Informative)

      by silas_moeckel (234313) <silas AT dsminc-corp DOT com> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:22PM (#45587795) Homepage

      Option 2 stop chasing them? The FBI's research pretty much shows that they are simply dangerous http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/march-2010/evidence-based-decisions-on-police-pursuits [fbi.gov] they show that most chases are for minor offences and that the suspects will quickly return to safe driving after the chase is stopped. Pretty much car chases are cops getting an adrenaline rush at the expense of the public.

      • Re:Pros vs Cons (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jklovanc (1603149) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:55PM (#45588313)

        The issue is that many people who run from the police when chased for a minor traffic violation are not running to avoid the the ticket. They are usually running because they are wanted on another, much more serious, charge. By not chasing we would let serious criminals get away. For example ,serial murderer Ted Bundy [nhtsa.gov] who killed over 22 women, and the Atlanta child killer, Wayne Williams, who killed 28, were apprehended because of traffic stops.

        As another poster pointed out, a publicized no chase policy will just encourage people to run. It does not take long for an accident to happen. For example, a famous computer programmer was struck killed by a fleeing motorist within 2km of the start of the chase.

      • by mjwx (966435)

        Option 2 stop chasing them? The FBI's research pretty much shows that they are simply dangerous http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/march-2010/evidence-based-decisions-on-police-pursuits [fbi.gov] they show that most chases are for minor offences and that the suspects will quickly return to safe driving after the chase is stopped. Pretty much car chases are cops getting an adrenaline rush at the expense of the public.

        This,

        In Australia they've moved from pursuits to a policy of interception.

        Its safer for everyone (cops, suspect, bystanders... everyone) if the cops back off, watch the suspect and corner them.

    • ... "target" being defined as "everything downrange" . . .
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      But then you have a 2 to 5 ton vehicle with no ability to control it.

      That kinetic energy doesn't just disappear and at the kind of speeds that would occasion the use of such a device, that car is probably going to slam into something: a house, bus full of orphans, kitten factory, etc. The summary says it drove toward the device at 15mph. I'd like to see what happens at 50mph, 100mph or on something like a fully loaded truck.

      Additionally, and perhaps more horrifying, is that "Digital audio and video recordin

    • This kind of thing would be ripe for abuse, but how many times have we heard/read about police chases which result in massive collateral damage and people getting killed?

      Enough times to know that the issue might be with the cowboy cops themselves, engaging suspects in high-speed chases through heavily populated metro areas.

      YEEE-HAW, We's gunna git us a bad guy, no matter how many civilians have to die in the process!

    • Re:Pros vs Cons (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Em Adespoton (792954) <slashdotonly.1.adespoton@spamgourmet.com> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @05:22PM (#45588673) Homepage Journal

      This kind of thing would be ripe for abuse, but how many times have we heard/read about police chases which result in massive collateral damage and people getting killed?

      I'm torn, but this seems like a really good thing for police to have. Especially if it can be directed so that it only affects the target.

      People said the same thing about Tasers.

  • by WilliamGeorge (816305) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:08PM (#45587579)

    So there are some potentially cool applications of this - stopping a criminal in a car chase with police, for example - but it has massive potential for crime as well. Stopping cars at night, in secluded areas, to steal them and/or assault the passengers? Or causing mayhem by stopping cars on freeways, not all of which will slow at the same speed, leading to massive pile-ups.

    • Hmm. You make this item actually sound fun.
  • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:08PM (#45587583)

    Pacemakers and implanted defibrilators monitor the function of the heart by detecting voltage gradients of milivolts. This weapon can reliably knock out electronics in a car - electronics designed to operate in a very harsh EMI environment due to the presence of the nearby igntion system and contained within the metal body of the car. An enclosure that provides a bit more protection than 5mm of glass and 70cm of flesh.

    So when they say this device poses no risk to those with a pacemaker, consider me a bit skeptical of that claim.

    • by dbc (135354) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:18PM (#45587723)

      Exactly. The FCC has rf safety guidelines that all rf emitters need to meet. Even us ham radio operators are supposed to do an assessment of their own stations. I'd like to see what kind of field strengths they are talking about and at what frequencies and distances.

      Also.... having some familiarity with CAN bus and auto electronics, I'm wondering exactly how they can say that their pulse generator only applies the brakes and makes the radio wacky. Why wouldn't some random disruption cause, say, the fuel injection system to go to full throttle? Or maybe the brakes on only one side of the car go full on? Or the automatic transmission to start shifting randomly?

      The validation test matrix for this kind of device is impractically huge, and the safety implications of a missed case are severe.

  • by Valdrax (32670) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:09PM (#45587585)

    In demonstrations seen by the BBC a car drove towards the device at about 15mph (24km/h). As the vehicle entered the range of the RF Safe-stop, its dashboard warning lights and dials behaved erratically, the engine stopped and the car rolled gently to a halt.

    Let's try this demonstration again in a situation where you would actually need such a device, i.e. in a high-speed pursuit. A 15 mph demonstration means nothing for the safety of the product.

  • couple of thoughts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roc97007 (608802) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:10PM (#45587603) Journal

    First thought: When shielding is criminal, only criminals will have shielding.

    Second thought: This would be a really cool way to deactivate police cars that might be chasing you.

    • I'm sure they would tell you that if you like your shielding, you can keep your shielding.
    • Your sig:

      George Lucas (Verb) Lucasing, Lucased (a) The act of committing graphics overkill.

      Better update it. Lucas Electrical [ncsu.edu]

  • I thought this car EMP tech wasn't going anywhere when I started switching one of my cars to EFI late last year. Now this shit happens :-(

    How can I shield my car against this? I'm willing to add up to 20lbs to do it.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      How can I shield my car against this? I'm willing to add up to 20lbs to do it.

      Same as everything else ... a large quantity of tinfoil, or a Faraday Cage around your car.

      As an added benefit, think of all the interesting people you'll meet trying to explain why your car is plastered in tinfoil.

      • I guess shielding all the wiring harnesses and electronics individually wouldn't work since the car's body would still pick it up and everything is grounded to it?

    • by JeanCroix (99825)

      How can I shield my car against this? I'm willing to add up to 20lbs to do it.

      Sell it and buy an antique from the pre-electronics era. Carburetor and points ignition. Although I assume most of them will be a wee bit more than a 20lb increase over a modern car...

      • Many would be far lighter, since the 2000s cars have been getting far heavier and larger, approaching the weight of the land yachts of the 50s and 60s. '80s and '90s Japanese compacts are very light.

      • Maybe all you need is a ground strap and an aluminized mylar bag.

  • Why is it that people name their product the very opposite of what it is? Is it supposed to serve as some sort of rebuttal? Safe for who? The guy going 60mph? Anyone around him when he loses power steering and brakes?

    • You won't lose brakes, just ABS control of them so the guy is going to need a crash course in How Brakes Actually Work real quick.

      You will lose power steering though and that could be scary...and you'll lose all other electro-nannies which are ZOMG SO IMPORTANT YOU GUYS according to the Porsche Carrera thread.

    • by jo_ham (604554) <joham999&gmail,com> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:17PM (#45587713)

      Why is it that people name their product the very opposite of what it is? Is it supposed to serve as some sort of rebuttal? Safe for who? The guy going 60mph? Anyone around him when he loses power steering and brakes?

      It's clearly designed to bring police chases to a much more rapid end, so instead of chasing a guy at breakneck speed for miles and miles, with him maybe ending up wrapped around a tree, or crashing head on into a granny coming the other way, or a failed containment attempt resulting in him spinning out and crashing horrifically, instead the police just EMP the car and end the chase quickly.

      No one said it had to be safe for the driver of the car. I assume it's called "safe stop" because the alternative is a risky high speed chase.

  • A car EMP cannon has been one of those things that tech workers have talked about for years. You could use it to screw up data centers as well...or maybe the bank's power substation. How about a pacemaker?

  • by AtariEric (571910) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:14PM (#45587655)
    Digital audio and video recording devices in the vehicle were also affected.

    So, they can shut off your camera before they beat you half to death?
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:14PM (#45587663) Journal
    Cars have complex systems like traction control and anti lock brakes, and cruise control. What would happen if the pulse disables the brakes but turns on the cruise control or opens the electronic throttle wide open and shuts off the brakes?

    That it successfully disabled a few old dilapidated junk is no big deal. Those vehicles are just a skip, hop and a jump from junkyard and would fail more easily. A modern car well insulated against electromagnetic interference is likely to protect some systems and lose some other systems partially. This is just dangerous.

  • A 1960s Range Rover will stop on it's own soon enough.
  • You can find articles going back to 2004 with a similer idea. http://www.theguardian.com/science/2004/jul/12/sciencenews.crime [theguardian.com]
  • No more taxes on cars and gasoline, no more restrictions, no more surveillance, no more control that isn't mine. It's my fucking car. Cars used to represent freedom, in some part.
  • by tomtefar (935007) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:32PM (#45587935)

    So the RF interference takes out the CAN bus, which runs communications between the various control units in the vehicle. This is a common problem in electrical vehicles, where the high power/current lines must be routed separately from the CAN bus wires.

    There are two problems with this solution

    1. Older vehicles are unaffected
    Old cars, especially those with carburetors, are unaffected since they don't have any data buses that can pickup the interference.

    2. The CAN bus carries safety critical information.
    Corrupted data packets, such as by-wire throttle position information, can cause brake failures and/or uncontrolled acceleration when the ECU/TCU bombs out due to noise on the bus. Airbags may also deploy, although that is a bit more far-fetched.

       

  • by netsavior (627338) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:32PM (#45587945)
    A much simpler approach would be to sniff their smartphones, so you could send the driver a text that says "STOP UR CAR, LOL"
    In my experience, the average driver will obey their smartphone screen more readily than local traffic laws.
  • by Bearhouse (1034238) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @05:00PM (#45588383)

    I drive an old Mercedes, with mechanical fuel injection and well...mechanical everything.
    The active safety is good, (I've upgraded the brakes and suspension) and Merc were among the first to design-in crumple zones, so passive not too bad.
    OK, I've no airbags...

    Not being a nutty survivalist, just like having a car where I can fix everything myself, and no fucker with an EMP device, or anything else for that matter, is going to stop me.

    Cost over the years (including fuel?), less than replacing it regularly with something "better".
     

    • by Catbeller (118204)

      Far less. People always judge the worth of a car by its trade in value. They are mistaken; the value is the money *not* spent on a newer car. 1-2 thousand a year in repair is always cheaper than buying a new or new used car. Repairs and maintenance cost about 200 a month, averaged; cost of car payment is your down payment, divided by the use-life in months, plus car payment to bank or finance house, plus extra insurance cost each month for newer car vs old. Even subtracting old car trade-in, you will always

  • by sandbagger (654585) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @05:40PM (#45588897)

    Take the magnetron out of an old microwave and attach it to the rear bumper with a switch. In case the police are chasing me I turn it on to disable their car before they can pull in from of me to disable mine.

    You see, being the bad guy, I'm going to be in the pole position in this particular car race.

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