Microwave 'Gun' Could End High-Speed Police Chases

"With spike strips, you have to lay them down before the suspect gets there," says Heal. "And that raises the basic question, if you know where they're going, then why chase [the suspects] at all?"

But if police cruisers and helicopters were equipped with a working version of Eureka's system, the nature of "hot pursuits" could change dramatically.

"It changes the strategy of how to safely end car chases," says Heal. "We can pick and choose where and when to disable the car where it would put the least amount of risk to the safety of our officers, the suspects and the public."

The Bumps in the Road

Still, Tatoian and Heal admit that there are quite a few questions and concerns that will need to be addressed before police can stop fleeing suspects with a push of a power button.

For one, Tatoian still needs to figure out whether the system will work in "real world" conditions. And there are plenty of factors that Eureka engineers will have to consider in further research and design.

For example, while Tatoian is confident that every car has particular "vulnerable frequencies," so far they've only been able to test the theory on about 13 cars. And with thousands of different makes and models of vehicles on the road today, it may be impossible to identify and isolate the right combination for each car.

And for the energy beam to be effective, researchers will have to deal with factors that are beyond their control.

"The difficult part of the technology is in 'coupling' -- getting the microwave energy into the chips so they overload," says Heal. "A vast majority of cars today are coated with rust coatings, thick paint or have bodies made of plastic -- all not good conductors of energy."

Tatoian believes that these concerns can be answered -- especially with the help of Heal and the officers in the L.A. sheriff's department. One possible theory that Eureka and Heal's department would like to test is whether there are specific spots on cars that are particularly vulnerable to microwave energy.

Smokey and the Zapper?

Both Tatoian and Heal expect that by the end of this year, Eureka Aerospace will be able to field a prototype that will test these theories and other concerns.

"When Dr. Tatoian is ready, we'll take this out to our chase test facility," says Heal. "Our officers are all jazzed on it."

But even if all the technical bugs get worked out, Heal says it still might take quite a while before the system becomes another high-tech, non-lethal tool for police officers on highway patrol.

Heal pointed to a recent university study which documents that police departments used less-than-lethal weapons -- Tasers, bean bags, batons, pepper spray -- more than 60,000 times in the last 10 years.

"One of the things we found out -- which we're often accused of by detractors of less-than-lethal weapons -- is that when we get a new device, we tend to overuse it," says Heal. "We'll have to go through fairly rigorous steps before we implement new technology -- including involving our legal department."

In other words, lawyers ultimately will have the final say if highway police really do live up to their "smokey" nickname.

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