Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Our Fragile World

Here's the downside of the modern dependence on electronics.

Researchers at Eureka Aerospace are turning a fictional concept from the movie 2 Fast 2 Furious into reality: they're creating an electromagnetic system that can quickly bring a vehicle to a stop. The system, which can be attached to an automobile or aircraft carrier, sends out pulses of microwave radiation to disable the microprocessors that control the central engine functions in a car. Such a device could be used by law enforcement to stop fleeing and noncooperative vehicles at security checkpoints, or as perimeter protection for military bases, communication centers, and oil platforms in the open seas.

a specially designed antenna beams the microwave energy toward an opposing vehicle through a part of the car, such as the windshield, window, grill, or spacing between the hood and main body, that is not made of metal. (Metal acts as a shield against microwave energy.)

The radiated microwave energy will upset or damage the vehicle's electronic systems, particularly the microprocessors that control important engine functions, such as the ignition control, the fuel injector, and the fuel-pump control. However, electronic control modules were not built into most cars until 1972, hence the system will not work on automobiles made before that year.

It should be relatively easy to produce custombuilt vehicles that are resistant to this microwave disabling weapon. But a switch to custombuilt items of equipment represents a step back from today's terrorist beau ideal, in which off the shelf, commercially obtainable equipment can be modified into weaponry.

At the moment, the most practical application for the system would be in the U.S. Army or Marine Corp, for perimeter protection of areas that are generally remote, says Fisher. Initial funding for the project came from the U.S. Marine Corp, but now Eureka Aerospace is looking to other governmental agencies for financial support as the company continues to work to make the device smaller, lighter, and more efficient.


Blogger RWE said...

I've been wanting to build one of those for years.

Except I would be pretty satisfied with one that would just destroy excessively loud car stereo systems.

11/13/2007 07:44:00 AM  
Blogger F said...

Pulses of energy that disable your opponent are nothing new, of course. Think Kryptonite or Bush Derangement Syndrome -- in both cases powerful individuals are brought to their knees by the barest exposure to the energy field. F

11/13/2007 08:29:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

If you could get these devices into cheap range-- they would make a lot of police pursuit problems a thing of the past. Right now police have to bang up their own police cars to stop a fleeing vehicle or radio ahead and put down tire flatteners. It could take half a dozen police cars or more to bring down one vehicle. With this device one police car could stop a vehicle.

There's not a lot of cars on the road that were made before 1972.

The device is probably too expensive right now.

11/13/2007 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Wretchard said:

"It should be relatively easy to produce custombuilt vehicles that are resistant to this microwave disabling weapon."

To avoid this threat, just drive around in an ancient car. My daily driver was made in 1964 and doesn't have a single transistor in it. That microwave gadget would have no effect on my car.

Ancient cars are also immune to Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP). Someday the Iranians, Norks or someother bad guy will opt to place a nuclear explosive in orbit and detonate it over the US. The radiation from the explosion would ionize the upper atmosphere, causing an EMP on the ground. The EMP would destroy most integrated circuit electronics including automobile powertrain control modules. After an EMP attack, the only cars still running would be old wrecks like mine.

11/13/2007 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger always right said...


Not for long. Unless you build yourself an enormous tank to store the gasoline.

11/13/2007 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger El Baboso said...

The countermeasures for this are fairly cheap and easy to implement. If this is just being funded right now, the fixes will be tested and on the web before it will be fielded.

11/13/2007 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Always right said:

"Eggplant, Not for long. Unless you build yourself an enormous tank to store the gasoline."

Sad but true. My car's engine is a 6-cylinder flat head (neolithic technology). It gets dreadful mileage (15 mi/gal). When gas gets over $5/gal, my old car will be for weekend crusing only. My wife's 96 Saturn has a modern overhead cam 4-cylinder engine with computer controlled electronic ignition and fuel injection. The Saturn gets 32 mi/gal, doesn't pollute the air and is over 10 years old (a technological miracle). You don't need to drive a Toyota Prius to be green. An old Saturn is green enough (and cheap!).

11/13/2007 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

As both a professional computer engineer and an amatuer hot-rodder, I am both fascinated and highly skeptical of the idea. A car's engine is already a generator of nightmare-level EMI noise (which plays havok with electronics). The computer under your dash is already in a shielded metal box to protect if from EMI. So I suspect the energy-levels required to disable a ruggedized automotive CPU or EPROM inside a shielded metal box via remote microwaves may also cook the innards of the driver and passengers. From an anti-VBIED military standpoint, it's cheaper and easier to use a well-placed 50-caliber BMG round through the engine block.

Wretchard, old-fashioned mechanical ignition cars like my beautifully simple 1966 Mustang will simply be outlawed. Didn't you know old cars pollute the air and are terribly unsafe? It doesn't matter that antique cars are a tiny minority. And I certainly don't have the right to endanger my life in a rickity convertible wearing nothing but a lap-belt.

11/13/2007 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Does anybody remember contact points? The kind that went around spindle and regulated the spark plugs? Only the contact sparks themselves would often pit the points and then you had to file them down and use a leaf gauge to get them back to spec.

What about cleaning out carburetors? I used to dismantle my carburetor and soak the parts in gasoline to remove the reside. The jets were a particular problem, requiring a fine wire to unclog. Then you put it together again usually to find that you had a little part left over, and you either ignored that piece of information or took it apart and started over.

11/13/2007 12:44:00 PM  
Blogger Ari Tai said...

I used to be able to stand in the engine compartment and service my old ford truck's straight six. Those were the days (pre 44 waist and transaxles).

Cars are turning into appliances. It won't be long before all the features are in every car, and software just turns them on and off - similar to what's inside of most TVs low-to-high-end models nowadays (it's just too expensive to build separate parts).

So, features like onstar, lojack and electornic fencing will be in all cars irrespective of turning it on (likely for thousand dollar fees), and I wager law enforcement, criminals, and others will be able to remotely disable cars pretty much at will.

No need for a deathray - save to make sure the "apply breaks and turn off engine" are heard by the (one chip thanks to Moore's law that runs the entire car including sound system and radio/wifi stack) controller using the law-enforcement key.

11/13/2007 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

Actually, the older systems wouldn't be immune to EMP, just mostly immune. Everything that had a diode in it, and a large ground sink, would be susceptible to a high voltage hit. Except for a floating system nothing but a diesel engine with no electronic cutoff would weather the EMP.

I've heard about rad hardening but I don't know much about it.

11/13/2007 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Wretchard said...

"What about cleaning out carburetors? I used to dismantle my carburetor and soak the parts in gasoline to remove the residue."

Years ago I lived in Australia. When it came time to clean my 1976 Toyota Corolla's carburetor, I went to the car part store to get some methyl chloride based carburetor cleaner. To my surprise, I was told that methyl chloride was illegal to buy in Oz (too poisonous) and to use petrol/gasoline instead to clean the carburetor. Petrol works really badly for cleaning a carburetor. I vaguely remember using acetone and then rinsed with petrol.

11/13/2007 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Mike H. said:

"Actually, the older systems wouldn't be immune to EMP, just mostly immune. Everything that had a diode in it, and a large ground sink, would be susceptible to a high voltage hit."

My car made in 1964 has a DC generator (not an alternator) with a relay/buzzer type voltage regulator. There are no diodes in my car.

11/13/2007 03:54:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

"The system, which can be attached to an automobile or aircraft carrier,..."

They are going to put those on AIRCRAFT CARRIERS?!?!?

What are they going to zap? Submarines?

And yes, I remember contact points. I still use them. I have some in my 1946 airplane. Also a DC generator with a relay-type regulator. Terrible stuff, but it works. Or sort of.

Actually, they used to sell a gallon can of Gunk Carb Cleaner, complete with a little cage to set the parts in to let them soak. It worked. Also stunk up the house something fierce.

Did you ever hear about the scientific principle that says if you take something apart and put it back together enough times you end up with two of them? Well, I have 5 carburators for my 1978 Celica.

11/13/2007 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger MKSheppard said...

Too bad this is utter garbage.

Same with EMP as an all powerful weapon.

The truth is; if you have a surge protector between your computer and the power outlet; and a surge protector in between your phone outlet or cable outlet and your computer; you're protected from EMP.

Plus; due to the rapid adoption of "Commercial off the Shelf" technology by the US Military, more commercial electronic consumer goods are being built to military specs against the marginal threat that EMP really is.

It adds only 1% to the total cost of the system.

11/13/2007 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

RWE said:

"Did you ever hear about the scientific principle that says if you take something apart and put it back together enough times you end up with two of them? Well, I have 5 carburators for my 1978 Celica."

I suspect the real reason why RWE has so many carburetors is because Toyota is always fiddling with their engine design. My old 1976 Corolla had a KE-30 engine. One day I went to the junk yard and asked for a carburetor from a KE-30. They pointed me at a bin full of old carburetors that all came from KE-30s. The first 7 carburetors that I pulled from that bin were all slightly different from each other. I had to go through about 15 different carburetors before I found one that was an exact match to the one on my car.

Toyota does make good cars though.

11/13/2007 05:10:00 PM  
Blogger MKSheppard said...

In fact, given the near utter lack of threat that EMP has in real life; I've often wondered if the threat is purposely hyped up for the following purposes:

1.) While an EMP bomb won't work; you can still arrest someone for making it.

2.) High altitude initations to blanket an area with EMP don't work either. But they mean that the enemy just wasted a nuke; and let you know in advance he's attacking you for no damage on your side.

11/13/2007 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

MKSheppard said...

"Too bad this is utter garbage. Same with EMP as an all powerful weapon."

For what it's worth, check out this US government website.

On that website you can read the following:

"In addition to other effects, a nuclear weapon detonated in or above the earth's atmosphere can create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), a high-density electrical field. EMP acts like a stroke of lightning but is stronger, faster and briefer. EMP can seriously damage electronic devices connected to power sources or antennas. This include communication systems, computers, electrical appliances, and automobile or aircraft ignition systems. The damage could range from a minor interruption to actual burnout of components. Most electronic equipment within 1,000 miles of a high-altitude nuclear detonation could be affected."

11/13/2007 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger MKSheppard said...

I see that website continues to point out the myth of "1,000 mile radius blackout" from a high altitude EMP initation.

You may not know it, but the majority of electronic equipment that was irrevocably damaged in Hawaii 800 miles away from the infamous STARFISH PRIME test in the 1960s was domestic radios and television sets which were plugged directly into the power grid, and were susceptible to the voltage spike caused briefly by the test.

Other outages in Hawaii were simply caused by industrial equipment which had been plugged into surge suppressors, and the suppressors had tripped during the brief transistent in the power lines.

All that needed to be done was to reset the surge suppressors circut breakers and the equipment was working again.

Now look at your average surge protector you can buy from Home Depot. The decent ones have telephone and CATV jacks. Put one of those onto your computer, and you're protected from EMP. All you would need to do would be to reset your surge protector's built-in breaker (or replace the protector; depends on how high quality it is) after an event.

To put things in contrast; there was a study done by the nations' electric companies to study the effects of a high altitude initation on the nation's power grid.

Their summation?

A high altitude EMP event, by the time it reached the Earth's surface, would have as much energy as a lightning strike some seven miles away.

Now look at FCC requirements for computer and home entertainment equipment; they all emit electromagnetic emissions when turned on; yet they must not interfere with each other; e.g. you can put your Playstation on top of your television (a giant electron gun) without causing problems in the Playstation.

For cars, the kind of electromagnetic interference caused when your car's sparkplugs fire makes an EMP pulse look small (hint, it's because the engine's computer chips are at best a foot or two away from the sparkplugs, while the high altitude EMP is a hundred plus miles away).

11/13/2007 09:42:00 PM  
Blogger MKSheppard said...

That said, there will still be problems from a high altitude EMP event; mainly around a few things:

1.) People who were stupid enough to have their $4000 home entertainment centers plugged right into the outlet with no surge protector.

2.) Equipment that was so cheap, nobody bothered with a surge protector; such as that $150 TV you got for your youngest daughter's room.

3.) Really, REALLY, REALLY cheap goods; like that wonderful transistor radio you got for $4.99 at a Dollar Store.

11/13/2007 09:54:00 PM  
Blogger OmegaPaladin said...

Actually, this would be banned from domestic use for one major reason: pacemakers. Frying someone's pacemaker could kill them, something a police force would likely be trying to avoid. They are also much more susceptible to EMI than car electronics.

MKSheppard - Never thought I'd see you around here.

11/14/2007 02:12:00 PM  

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