UK Police May Get Portable EMP Device To Shut Down E-Bikes & Scooters

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In an effort to take a bite out of crimes being committed on e-bikes or electric scooters, an EMP device that can shut down electric motors to stop suspects is being developed for UK police.

The booming electric micromobility market has enabled a revolution in zero emission personal transport options such as e-bikes, and while they are predominantly used for completely legal purposes, such as commuting and getting around town, they also lend themselves well to criminal activities due to their speed, easy accessibility, and near-silent operation. And it appears that the UK is taking the issue quite seriously, as a new weapon to help the police catch some of these e-criminals is currently under development.

According to The Guardian, the Defence Science and Technology Lab is developing a “Ghostbusters-style” backpack containing a portable electromagnetic pulse device in collaboration with the National Police Chiefs’ Council. The device, which the chair of the Council, Gavin Stephens, said “could be months away from being available,” can fire an electromagnetic pulse at a suspected vehicle that will shut down its electric motor by interfering with the motor’s control circuit. The weapon, which requires a clear line of sight to the target, works “by tricking the engine into thinking it is overheating, which shuts down the engine and brings the vehicle to a stop.”

“Basically, it interferes with the electric motor, to trick the electric motor into thinking it is overheating. It sends a signal to confuse the electric motor. All these electric motors apparently have an inbuilt safety system that if it thinks it’s overheating, it shuts down. At the minute, it’s like a ginormous backpack.” — Gavin Stephens

Not to be too big of a downer, but I believe that shutting down an e-bike motor doesn’t actually stop the bike, it just stops the electric assistance, which might slow the chase but probably not end it outright. However, I could be wrong, and perhaps their device would make the motor actually seize up, which would indeed stop the bike. That said, I’ve not ever experienced a non-functioning e-bike motor keeping the wheel from turning, so presumably the really fit criminals can keep pedaling and get away regardless of the lack of pedal assist. And then probably start developing ‘hardened’ e-bike systems that can withstand a shot from an EMP.

The money quote from the article, though, is this one: “Police hope the device will be harmless to humans and other devices.” Ah yes, good old hope — it’s what keeps humans (and other devices) safe from law enforcement. I’m wondering what will happen the first time this gets used in public and an entire block’s worth of smartphones accidentally get bricked. Thoughts and prayers, probably.

Photo by Ciprian Boiciuc on Unsplash


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Derek Markham

Derek lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, fungi, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves fresh roasted chiles, peanut butter on everything, and buckets of coffee.

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