The shape of things to comeNew car-stopper uses squids' tentacle-based approach

Published 24 January 2009

Looking for an answer to stop fleeing cars or suicide trucks hurtling toward their target, an Arizona company developed a tentacle-based device that ensnares the vehicle and brings it to a halt

Nature is good designer, so, when possible, humans would be wise to study closely how evolutionary design works — and emulate it. In evidence: Contractors funded  by DHS have developed an innovative remote-controlled car-stopping land mine which uses the technique used giant squids to catch their prey. The new tentacular vehicle trap is known as SQUID, for Safe Quick Undercarriage Immobilization Device. It is the brainchild of Martín Martínez, president of Tempe, Arizona-based Engineering Science Analysis (ESA) Corporation. ESA developed the SQUID under the auspices of the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) small-biz program. “SQUID was inspired by a sea creature and a superhero,” says Martínez. S&T experts see the device as the answer to the need to disable a fleeing car or a suicide truck hurtling toward its target. reports that the spider/cephalopod combination bomb comes in the form of a round canister about the size of a large pie or cake. A policeman or other law-enforcement personnel can lay it in the path of vehicle-driving criminal, terrorist, suicide bombers, etc. From a safe distance, the policeman uses the remote control to arm the device. Half a second before the speeding car pass over it, the police triggers it. A gas cartridge fires, unrolling barbed straps in all directions using a design modeled on that of kids’ party squeakers.

As the tires pass over the unrolled 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 drive shaft in the case of rear-wheel-drive vehicles. The tendrils and straps then break away from the canister, leaving it in the road.

As the wheels keep turning, the straps tighten and the tendrils stretch, gradually absorbing the vehicle’s kinetic energy and bringing it to a halt within 500 feet — according to DHS’s S&T people.

The SQUID is reckoned to be better than ordinary tire-bursters as it brings a vehicle to a halt more surely and under control. It is also better than current elastic barriers, which can not stop the massive pickups and four-wheel-drives favored by terrorists.

The device still needs work. “We must make it lighter,” says Mark Kaczmarek, DHS official in charge of the SQUID program. “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.