There have been a number of stories in SEN lately about the vulnerability of pedestrians to vehicle attacks, particularly in areas of high concentration and these have focused mostly on physical barriers without digging too deeply into technology, which I think is a mistake. Isn’t it possible for an electro-magnetic pulse guided by IVA from integrated optical and thermal cameras to deliver a highly targeted EMP pulse at long range to defend areas of vulnerability? 

A: You are correct, in theory at least. EMPs might help but the global application of collision avoidance technology, which includes engine-braking and steering adjustments to avoid pedestrians is likely to be the key. Let’s look at EMP first. Certainly, IVA-managed cameras with precise thresholds could defend adjacent areas by using EMP technology. There would be some latency but once a vehicle crossed a programmed line, EMP would bring it to a halt at relatively long range and without signal spill. It’s doubtful an EMP could be employed in public space without operator input, however, though IVA would reduce reaction times to a couple of seconds in a professional control room. 

Something like RF Safe-Stop, which is manufactured by e2v in the UK would be ideal. It employs a directed narrow band pulse in the S and L bands that is claimed by the maker to disrupt the electrical systems of vehicles at distances of up to 50m. This non-contact jamming system works on cars, boats, motorcycles and drones (range increases to 400m for UAVs).  

In a City Safe application, cost will be an issue, as will antenna area – you need a 1m square antenna to stop a car at 50m, though larger antenna areas increase stopping distance. This said, the units are usually installed in pairs – more cost and more visual pollution. Something else to consider is latency – EMP pulses are about 5 seconds in duration and it takes about 3 seconds to scramble the car’s electronics, with time to halt depending on current vehicle speed and road conditions. Perhaps the best use for this technology would be in mobile police command centres, where the antennae could be mounted on existing telescoping poles and deployed in defence of vulnerable areas or events. 

Something else we’ve not talked about in detail that will go a long way to increasing safety levels is widespread government mandate of laser-based collision avoidance technologies – this is a process that is already underway in heavy vehicles and passenger vehicles. In March last year, America's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced that manufacturers of 99 per cent of U.S. cars had agreed to include automatic emergency braking systems as a standard feature on virtually all new cars sold in the U.S. by 2022. The NHTSA projected that the ensuing acceleration of the rollout of automatic emergency braking would prevent an estimated 28,000 collisions and 12,000 injuries every year – that’s a big deal for life safety on all fronts.

In Europe, things are more advanced. There was a related agreement about advanced emergency braking system (AEBS) or autonomous emergency braking (AEB) in 2012 after a study showed it would save 8000 lives a year on European roads and this became mandatory in 2015. In the 2016 Berlin terror attack, the truck driven into the Berlin Christmas market was brought to a stop by its automatic braking system, saving many lives.

With London and now Stockholm added to the list of heavy vehicle attacks on pedestrians, we can expect governments around the world, including Australia, to press manufacturers even harder on global implementation of automated collision avoidance technologies, which is good news for medical response teams, as well as law enforcement and security people. ♦