Contractors working for the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have developed an innovative remote controlled car-stopping landmine using technology inspired by giant squid, Spiderman and extending party squeakers.
The new tentacular vehicle trap is known as SQUID, for Safe Quick Undercarriage Immobilization Device. It is the brainchild of Martín Martínez, president of Arizona-based Engineering Science Analysis (ESA) Corporation. ESA developed the SQUID under the auspices of the DHS Science and Technology directorate small-biz programme.
"SQUID was inspired by a sea creature and a superhero," says Martínez. DHS S&T boffins see it as the answer to that age-old question:
"What if — like sea monsters of ancient lore — a trap could reach up from below to ensnare anything from a MINI Cooper to a Ford Expedition?"
The Spidey/cephalopod combo bomb comes in the form of a round canister about the size of a largeish pie or cake. A policeman or other minion of the state can lay it in the path of vehicle-mounted miscreants, terrorist suicide bombers, wouldbe huddled masses attempting to illegally live the American dream, etc.
Having retired to a safe distance clutching his SQUID remote, the copper arms the device. Half a second before the speeding malefactors pass over it, he triggers it. A gas cartridge similar to that in a car airbag fires, unrolling barbed straps in all directions using a design modelled on that of kids' party squeakers.
As the tyres pass over the straps, the barbs dig in and the straps wrap around the axles. Meanwhile a second charge, triggered by engine heat passing overhead, deploys "sticky tendrils" from the canister, now beneath the vehicle.
The tendrils ensnare the trailing ends of the wheel-barb straps, causing them to wrap around any central driveshaft in the case of rear-wheel-drive vehicles. The tendrils and straps then break away from the canister, leaving it in the road.
The straps tighten as the wheels keep turning, and the tendrils stretch, gradually absorbing the vehicle's kinetic energy and bringing it to a halt within 500 feet according to the DHS S&T people.
The SQUID is reckoned to be better than ordinary tyre-bursters as it brings a vehicle to a halt more surely and under control. It beats current elastic barriers, too, which can't stop the massive pickups and four-wheel-drives favoured by many American villains. However, the federal moto-kraken designers admit it still needs work.
"We must make it lighter," says Mark Kaczmarek, DHS Q-branch official in charge of the SQUID programme. "Also, more affordable, so it becomes the stopper of choice, regardless of budget."
There's more on the SQUID courtesy of the current edition of DHS inhouse journal S&T Snapshots here. ®