Police vehicles in hot pursuit against Covid-19

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Police forces could have a new way to keep safe on the job, thanks to Covid-19 killing heated software enhancement developed by Ford for its Police Interceptor Utility model. This smart vehicle technology is available immediately as a software solution on all 2013-19 Police Interceptor Utility vehicles in the USA, Canada and other countries around the world.

“First responders are on the front lines protecting all of us. They are exposed to the virus and are in dire need of protective measures,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s chief product development and purchasing officer. “We looked at what’s in our arsenal and how we could step up to help. In this case, we’ve turned the vehicle’s powertrain and heat control systems into a virus neutraliser.”

How it works

The solution is simple but effective: Bake the vehicle’s interior until any viruses are inactivated. The system uses the Police Interceptor Utility’s own powertrain and climate control systems, with the software elevating passenger compartment temperatures beyond 133°F – hotter than Death Valley on its hottest day, using the heat and fan settings. The software automatically monitors interior temperatures until the entire passenger compartment – unoccupied naturally – hits the optimal level, then that temperature is maintained for 15 minutes.

To research the effectiveness of this sanitisation method, Ford worked with The Ohio State University to determine the temperature and time duration needed to help inactivate the Covid-19 virus.

“Our studies with Ford Motor Company indicate that exposing coronaviruses to temperatures of 56°C, or 132.8°F, for 15 minutes reduces the viral concentration by greater than 99% on interior surfaces and materials used inside Police Interceptor Utility vehicles,” said Jeff Jahnes and Jesse Kwiek, laboratory supervisors at The Ohio State University department of microbiology.

Law enforcement will have multiple ways to monitor the progress of the sanitisation procedure. Hazard lights and taillights flash in a pre-set pattern to notify when the process has begun, and then change at the end to signal completion of the process. The vehicle’s instrument cluster will also indicate progress. A cool-down process brings the temperature down from its highest points.

The hazard lights and taillights flash in a pre-set pattern to notify users when the high-temperature sanitisation process has begun, and then change at the end to signal completion of the process

When used in conjunction with sanitisation guidelines approved by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flooding the passenger compartment with elevated air temperature can help reach areas that may be missed by manual disinfecting procedures. Heat has the ability to seep into crevices and hard-to-reach areas, helping reduce the impact of human error in applying chemical disinfectants.

Ford conducted software operational trials in vehicles owned by the New York City Police Department, Los Angeles Police Department, Michigan State Police, Massachusetts State Police, Boardman Township Police Department in Ohio and Seminole County Sheriff’s Office in Florida.

Technology moves fast

The Ford engineering team initiated a project in late March to decontaminate vehicles using heat. Shortly after, a discussion with the New York City Police Department alerted Ford to its need for a more efficient disinfecting process during the pandemic.

“Law enforcement officers are being dispatched as emergency responders in some cases where ambulances may not be available,” said Stephen Tyler, Ford’s police brand marketing manager. “During one trip, officers may be transporting a coronavirus patient to a hospital, while another trip may involve an occupant who may be asymptomatic.”

Used to supplement recommended cleaning methods, safely heating the passenger compartment can help ensure vehicles are properly disinfected before being deployed again.

“Officers can now use this self-cleaning mode as an extra layer of protection inside the vehicle in areas where manual cleaning is prone to be overlooked,” said Tyler. “This virus is an invisible enemy and we are proud to provide a solution to help the law enforcement community fight it.”

Initial rollout

Large departments with their own service centres can install the software solution using their own diagnostic service tools, while other fleets can work with their local Ford dealers to install the software for 2013-19 Police Interceptor Utility vehicles.

For 2016-19 police vehicles, the heated software process can be activated by a smart sequence of commands that involves pressing the cruise control buttons in a predefined order. For 2013-15 vehicles, this mode can be activated and carried out through an external tool that connects to the onboard diagnostics port.

“Vehicles from the 2013 to 2019 model years make up the majority of Police Interceptor Utility vehicles currently in use by first responders,” said Tyler. “Delivering this new capability to these vehicles first allows us to help as many officers as possible, as quickly as possible.”

Ford will continue working on ways to bring this software capability to additional Ford police vehicles. Ford does warn, however, that ambient temperature, installation of partitions or other retrofit equipment may impede cabin temperatures from reaching the recommended threshold.

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About Author

Adam divides his time as an editor between the worlds of aviation and motoring. These worlds may seem a little diverse today, but autonomous technology and future urban mobility is bringing them ever-closer. Adam is also chairman of the Vehicle Dynamics International Awards.

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