Vehicles as Weapons

Response to Mark Cuban

In LinkedIn, Mark Cuban asks: With the weaponization of cars, which companies offer solutions/advancements and which Gov agencies are doing R&D to detect/prevent events?‬

Our response:

Great question, complex answer. While technology exists, consideration must be extended to the vehicle's utilization, type of weapon(s), legalities of automated vehicle control, false detection, overall cost, OEM or aftermarket installation, and gov't regulatory and compliance issues. In addition, owner/operator acceptance akin to privacy issues OnStar and other services face (Big Brother concerns). Even with a "value proposition" to owners such as improved safety, insurance rates, economy, and carbon footprint, consumers generally don't want to bear the cost of any device, let alone one that invades their privacy.

We have experience related to your question, but I shall first provide a quick overview of the challenges to put us on the same page from a tech perspective.

Let's examine the transportation sectors where our company has experience related to your question. Our company designs advanced two-way smart sensors originally intended for airborne vehicle and watercraft. A boat or airplane without any weapon additions, is in itself a deadly weapon in the hands of a suicidal operator. We have worked with the US Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security in detecting high-speed private boats that could be slammed into tankers or ports harboring explosive or HAZMAT chemicals (such as LNG). We have also examined the same "mission concept" with aircraft. The difference between these two transportation modes is the "area of operations" and the current infrastructure provide enable our solutions to increase the probability of identifying threats and to offer improved early threat detection.

The objectives are to provide automated cognitive decision support to handle the dynamically increasing types and number of threats. Early warning translates to higher probability of implementing corrective action and reducing or eliminating human loss. Also, noteworthy Mark, your question relates to the some of the challenges that the federal Customs & Border Protection agency face: 1) high-speed vehicles illegally crossing expansive borders which are financially and impractical to police with human agents, and 2) staged vehicle carnage at a border station to distract, disrupt and deceive agents.

There are other considerations such as collateral damage and understanding loss exchange ratio. While these thoughts and numerical predictions remove human element and sensitivity from the equation, they are typical battlefield parameters that must be considered when building, deploying, or defending weapons that can kill or destroy.

Our experience with the FAA is that it is cost prohibitive and requires an extensive timeline to even attach peel-n-stick smart sensors on airplanes. We have the technology, but FAA regulatory issues have prevented us from implementing a solution today that offers the opportunity to better thwart piloted and drone aircraft from becoming kill weapons. Therefore, we are examining the "value add" solution to owner/operators which results in getting greater data analytics and acceptance.

An FYI, in addressing watercraft, we were able to install advanced sensors underneath bridges to detect water transportation of Cesium 137 which is a radio-active isotope used in medical equipment. Get enough, create a dirty bomb. Similarly, we have installed advanced sensors on a Super Highway in the United States to both passively and actively detect unwanted vehicle activity. Two approaches were implemented: 1) "beam" vehicles and analyze the results, and 2) configure vehicles with embedded smart sensors and then "read" the electronic information as they passed various points on the highway. Both illustrated very promising results.

So, getting back to your vehicle question... like I said complex, but there is at least a clear path that initially moves toward practical solutions. This requires a multi-disciplinary team of operators, transportation infrastructure, OEM's, and gov't agencies. The answer lies in both outfitting vehicles and infrastructure for detection. Future works needs to address timely corrective action (and I'll leave the liability issues of false detection and failed or botched corrective action on the table for now)!

Great question and I hope it raises the challenge to increase the level of effort. I thank you for your contributions you have made over the years, and will extend that to your future contributions as I have a good feeling that you are committed to improving the quality and safety of all lives.