“I have no doubt that if you set up a microprocessor and get a high-powered, well-focused beam of energy on [a car], you can disrupt its operation,” says Peter Fisher, a professor of physics and the division head in particle and nuclear experimental physics at MIT. But to be able to deploy such a system safely will take some work, he says.
Imagine if a police officer is in a high-speed chase near a shopping mall and turns on one of these systems to stop the perpetrator: a lot of elevators have microprocessor controls, so if the officer is pointing the device in the direction of the mall, he or she could end up trapping 12 people in an elevator, says Fisher. Many other electronic systems, such as an automated teller machine or a security system, could also be disrupted.
Furthermore, Fisher cautions that, while the system may seem like an easier and more efficient solution than spike strips, it could still cause a huge accident if a car is disabled and a driver loses steering control. The system could pose a safety concern as well: radiation can burn human skin, and microwaves have long been suspected of being a cancer-causing agent.
At the moment, the most practical application for the system would be in the U.S. Army or Marine Corp, for perimeter protection of areas that are generally remote, says Fisher. Initial funding for the project came from the U.S. Marine Corp, but now Eureka Aerospace is looking to other governmental agencies for financial support as the company continues to work to make the device smaller, lighter, and more efficient. (Tatoian says that details regarding future work with the military are confidential.)