Monday, May 27, 2024

UK police could get Ghostbusters-style backpack devices to halt ebike getaways

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Police officers in Britain could be armed with Ghostbusters-style devices that fire electromagnetic rays to shut down the engines of ebikes being used in a crime.

Gavin Stephens, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), said the weapon was in development and could be months away from being available, though it is expected to be longer than that.

He said it would be housed in a backpack, reminiscent of the equipment used in the Ghostbusters series of movies. It could tackle crime linked to newer vehicles such as electric bikes and electric scooters.

The device is being developed with the Defence Science and Technology Lab, which is overseen by the Ministry of Defence, alongside other technological innovations that British police are hoping to use. It would fire an electromagnetic pulse at a vehicle that an officer wants to stop because the rider is suspected of involvement in a crime.

The electromagnetic weapon works by tricking the engine into thinking it is overheating, which shuts down the engine and brings the vehicle to a stop. It requires a line of sight to work, Stephens said.

Stephens told a media briefing: “Basically, it interferes with the electric motor, to trick the electric motor into thinking it is overheating. It sends a signal to confuse the electric motor. All these electric motors apparently have an inbuilt safety system that if it thinks it’s overheating, it shuts down. At the minute, it’s like a ginormous backpack.”

The equipment was demonstrated to police leaders at the Farnborough technology show earlier this year. Stephens said: “They were also telling me it has the potential to be useful with normal combustion engine vehicles.”

The project is being overseen by Paul Taylor, the NPCC’s chief scientific adviser. Police hope the devicewill be harmless to humans and other devices.

E-scooters and ebikes are potentially an environmentally friendly way to travel, but they have been used in thousands of crimes. They are fast and nimble, so for instance a rider can nip on to pavements to snatch a mobile phone and then make a quick getaway.

Police already have technology to stop cars remotely using radio and electromagnetic waves. Stephens said police pursuits had changed from the days of chasing cars on motorways. “It’s these lightning-fast electric bikes around town and city centres. Really difficult.”

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