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Air Force awards $25K to inventor of insanely fast device that stops fleeing cars

Retired engineer nabs $25k Air Force prize for technology that stops high-speed car chases

By Layer 8 on Fri, 09/02/11 - 7:09am.

If you remember the "Dirty Harry" movie "Dead Pool" where a radio controlled corvette model car containing a bomb chases Harry around the streets of San Francisco and eventually detonates under his car destroying it, then you have the general idea of the technology a retired 66-year-old mechanical engineer came up with to win a $25,000 prize from the Air Force Research Laboratory.

The prize was awarded as part of an Air Force program known as Open Innovation Pavilion that sponsors public challenges with the idea of crowdsourcing answers to difficult technical problems.

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In this case, the Air Force had issued a public challenge known as "The Vehicle Stopper," which looked to  find "a viable, sustainable, and affordable means of stopping an uncooperative fleeing vehicle without permanent damage to the vehicle or harm to any of its passengers."

Today on the White House Science and Technology Blog, Alok Dos of the AFRL wrote that Dante Barbis from Lima, Peru had won the big prize which gives the Air Force the rights to use his idea.

Dos wrote: "The solution consists of a remote electric-powered vehicle that can accelerate up to 130 MPH within 3 seconds, position itself under a fleeing car, then automatically trigger a restrained airbag to lift the car and slide it to a stop. This design overcomes the previous restrictions of having to preposition the system. It is almost universally applicable to multiple scenarios and it is very affordable.  AFRL has assigned a team and allocated funding to build and test a prototype based on Barbis's detailed design. If the system passes all the operational testing, the prototype will be demonstrated to the USAF Security Forces and the design will be transitioned for operational use."

Dos noted that when the challenge was issued in March, 1,071 people signed up to tackle the problem. "Of these interested parties, 119 people provided a wide range of detailed proposals. A team of AFRL researchers evaluated these proposals and Barbis' really stood out. The team unanimously judged that this novel idea met all of the requirements," he wrote.

Dos said many police forces currently use various "tire shredder" strips. These require the strips to be prepositioned in order to work and destroy the tires in the process. This is dangerous and has led to police officer deaths while getting the strips in place or from drivers swerving around the devices. The Department of Homeland security, in a major contract in 2009, developed the "SQUID." This device entangles the wheels of a vehicle and stops it without destroying any part of the vehicle.  But this device also requires being prepositioned and triggered as the vehicle runs over it. None of these devices provide a rapid and easily deployed capability to stop vehicles.

The AFRL Pavilion which is hosted on Internet marketplace InnoCentive.com's Web site, currently has three other open challenges.  They include:

The Competes Act passed last year gives every Federal  department and agency the authority to conduct prize competitions, according to the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.   Prizes and challenges have an excellent track record of accelerating problem-solving by tapping America's top talent and best expertise.

The prize competition idea follows on some very successful challenge programs offered by the X Prize Foundation and the government's own Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Challenge.gov site. 

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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