Empire State Building car zap mystery
by Richard Weir / January 27th 2008
In the shadow of the Empire State Building lies an “automotive Bermuda Triangle” – a five-block radius where vehicles mysteriously die. No one is sure what’s causing it, but all roads appear to lead to the looming giant in our midst – specifically, its Art Deco mast and 203-foot-long, antenna-laden spire. “We get about 10 to 15 cars stuck near there every day,” said Isaac Leviev, manager of Citywide Towing, the AAA’s exclusive roadside assistance provider from 42nd St. to the Battery. “You pull the car four or five blocks to the west or east and the car starts right up.” Motorists like Russell Valeev, 25, learn about it the hard way. “The lights work, the horn works, everything. But it won’t start,” Valeev, a driver for Golden Touch Transportation said one recent evening as he sat in his 2005 Ford van with the hood propped open on E. 35th St., between Lexington and Park Aves. “It’s my job. No money.” The 102-story building, at Fifth Ave. between 33rd and 34th Sts., has been home to broadcast equipment since its opening in 1931, when RCA installed an experimental TV antenna. Since the 9/11 attacks destroyed the twin towers, the building has regained its status as the leading transmission site for commercial broadcast outfits, with 13 TV and 19 FM stations mounting antennas on its spire.
The Empire State Building Co., which refused to provide the Daily News a list of its antennas, denied it has created any “adverse impact” on automobiles. “If the claim were indeed true, the streets in the vicinity of the building would be constantly littered with disabled vehicles,” the building’s owner said. According to many doormen in the area, they often are. “They park here on the block and when they come back and try to leave, they can’t start their cars,” said Martin Deda, a doorman at 16 Park Ave., which fronts E. 35th St. “I’ve seen a lot of cars get towed away,” said a doorman at 35 E. 35th St. who gave only his first name, Joseph. “I see it all the time, at least 10 times a week … I call it the ‘Empire State Building Effect.'”
Automotive experts and engineers believe the problem stems from radio frequency interference that’s “jamming” the remote keyless entry systems of cars. The remote keyless entry systems operate on specific wavelengths assigned by the Federal Communications Commission, which governs the bands and bandwidths of TV, radio, telephone and other transmissions. The FCC said it has not received any complaints regarding interference affecting autos in midtown, and Empire State Building officials don’t believe the claims. Yet some phantom transmission appears to cause the remote keyless entry systems of scores of car owners to go haywire and stop talking to their vehicles.
Abe Quinones was a drug rep in September 2002 when he parked his brand-new BMW 325i on the south side of E. 35th St., just west of Park Ave. “As I was leaving, I went to click the remote to lock the doors, but it didn’t work. I just thought it was the [key’s] battery,” he said. He locked the car the old-fashioned way, using the button on the door. When he returned, he was locked out. “I was stuck there for three hours. I had to call for a tow truck,” he said, adding that the driver jimmied open his door. “The minute he stuck the key in the ignition the car started up.” Lain Gutierrez, 39, a retired investment banker who lives in Times Square, nearly had to shell out $500 for a rental SUV when a friend’s Jeep Liberty suddenly would not start while parked on E. 35th St., west of Lexington Ave., last month. “It was a bizarre, automotive Bermuda Triangle experience,” Gutierrez said. For nearly three hours, “The car was sitting there dead.” A tow truck driver told them about the radio waves zapping the car’s immobilizer chip. “We thought he was crazy,” Gutierrez said. Then the car started right up.
Microwave Beam Stops Cars Dead
by Tracy Staedter / Nov. 29, 2007
The same microwave radiation that reheats pizza can be used to fry the electrical systems in cars, stopping them dead in their tracks. Emitted from a rooftop device, the radiation could be used by law enforcement officers to put an end to dangerous car chases or by military personnel as a non-lethal way of disabling vehicles that get too close for comfort. “The idea is to warn an automobile some distance away from a high-value target like a military barrack or a communication center. If they don’t comply, you just zap them and it prevents them from coming closer,” said James Tatoian, CEO of Eureka Aerospace in Pasadena, Calif. Tatoian and his team have been working on the device since 2003. The current prototype is about 5 feet long, 3 feet wide, a foot thick, and weighs just under 200 pounds.
The technology uses the same kind of energy used in microwave ovens, but at a different frequency. Ovens typically operate at 2.45 Ghz, whereas the high-power car-stopping system is at 300 megahertz. In both cases, the radiation is above common radio frequencies and is not harmful to humans. “There are no biological effects,” said Tatoian. “We comply with every standard in the literature as far as biological impact.” To disable cars, the device first generates energy that is amplified using a generator. The energy is converted to microwave radiation and then directed, by way of a specially designed antenna, at the offender in a narrow beam. The higher the frequency of the radiation, the more directed the beam, which allows the user to aim the energy at vulnerable car parts, such as light bulb filaments, lug nuts, frame bolts, or windshield antenna. Having access to these locations is crucial because newer cars are made with lots of plastic parts, have rustproof paint that prevents electricity from conducting, and have computers already designed to withstand the electromagnetic energy coming from the car engine. One beam pulsed in a burst lasting just 50 nanoseconds is enough to disrupt a vehicle’s electrical system. The radiation can overload wires or damage or upset the car’s central microprocessor.
In tests on four vehicles, the researchers were able to disable cars from 10 to 50 feet away. Such a device could go a long way to save time and lives in places like southern California, where highways stretch uninterrupted for long distances and car chases are common. “Once they get off the streets, they just go until they run out of gas,” said commander Charles “Sid” Heal of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in Monterey Park, Calif. The department donated test cars for the experiments. A technology that would shut down a car’s computer could not only reduce the number of car chases, but could also allow police officers to intentionally stop a car in a location where the offender might have difficulty running from on foot. Heal said he would like to see the researchers add a light to beam, so that law enforcers could see where they are directing the beam and offenders would realize that they are on the receiving end of some kind of weapon. “We can put the visible light on them, and if we don’t get compliance, we’ll hit them with a device that kills the car,” said Heal. Tatoian thinks that with the proper funding, Eureka Aerospace can shrink the device in less than two years to a 50-pound appliance that looks like a plasma television and can disable cars from 600 feet away.
The high-power electromagnetic system (HPEMS) uses microwave energy to disable/damage vehicle’s electronic control module/microprocessors which control engine’s vital functions. The system is capable of (1) high-value asset perimeter protection from approaching hostile vehicles, (2) bringing cars to halt on urban, suburban roads and multi-lane highways, (3) perimeter protection for gas-oil (fueling) platform at sea and (4) day/night, all weather clandestine operations. Figures shown here depict HPEMS’ application for stopping vehicles on highways and perimeter protection of gas-oil fueling platform from approaching boats at sea.
The focus originally is to build a compact portable tunable system to be integrated in a police car (Ford Crown Victoria) and having the following operational capabilities:
* Operational range of frequencies tunable in the 350-1350 MHz range
* Immobilizing all vehicles with microprocessors at the range exceeding 50 meters
* HPEMS fits on a roof of a vehicle
Once the car-hosted system is built and tested, Eureka Aerospace will transition the technology to building larger HPEMS for 5-km perimeter protection applications. HPEMS consists of 3 major elements:
1. Power Source
2. Tunable RF Oscillator
3. High-gain antenna
The power source consists of 16-stage Marx generator having erected voltage in excess of 640 kV, generating high energy (103 J each) pulses at PRF=100 Hz, yielding 10 kW average power. Marx generator is being fed by 270 Vdc capacitor bank, which in turn is energized by a 12V, 2kJ/sec car alternator. The design goal is to achieve PRF=1000 Hz, thus increasing the average power by 10 dB. Tunable RF Oscillator consists of a two-plate variable length transmission line and a fast (less than 100 ps) closing spark-gap switch, which traps the pulses between the switch and the antenna (load) and thus converts Marx’s dc energy into microwave energy at a frequency controlled by the length of the transmission line.
High-gain antenna constitutes an integral part of the oscillator, since it represents the load of the oscillator circuit. Its terminals are connected to the transmission line and it radiates due to the oscillating voltage on its terminals. In the development of antenna subsystem, the key elements are: (1) suitable impedance allowing for efficient radiation and yet permitting adequate oscillations to occur between the switch and antenna for having large Q, (2) antenna size and shape for achieving required gain and yet not be obtrusive. The candidate antennas include (a) horn, (b) spiral and (c) Impulse radiating antenna (IRA), with gain ranging from 16 dBi (at 350 MHz) to 28 dBi (at 1.35 GHz). The operational system will have multiple (HH and VV) or circular polarization.
Tunable oscillator together with a high-power switch constitutes an integral part of the entire HPEMS. The subsystem will be tunable in the 350-1350 MHz range, where the most vulnerable frequencies for vehicles were determined during Phase II effort. The choice of a dielectric medium inside the switch, which will be based on the magnitude of the maximum voltage on its electrodes, the size of the gap between electrodes together with antenna impedance, will be selected to achieve the most efficient power transfer from Marx generator to the radiating antenna. Moreover, to accommodate large voltages, the option of using multi-channel switch oscillator system is being investigated. The overall objective of the HPEMS is to deliver at least 20 kV/m at the target vehicle of up to 50 m.
Finally, to avoid collateral damage to other vehicles, particularly on multi-lane highways, HPEMS is designed to optimize the antenna beam size, given operational frequency and the limitations of the antenna aperture size, which, together with system operational procedures (distance to the target vehicle and aspect angle) will assure the “illumination” of the target vehicle only. The tables below cite 1) HPEMS features, advantages, and benefits and 2) HPEMS comparison with other key competing technologies. All current vehicle stopping systems, although affordable but highly ineffective, can be replaced by Eureka’s HPEMS. No interfacing equipment or facilities are needed for implementation of HPEMS technology.
Current State of Development
In April 2004, Eureka Aerospace conducted a series of tests at the Los Angeles Sheriff Department’s (LASD) Fleet maintenance facility, where the so-called vulnerable frequencies associated with the microprocessor pins controlling the most vital function of the Electronic Control Modules (ECMs) were measured for six vehicles including Chevy Lumina, Dodge truck, Ford Taurus, Ford Crown Victoria, Toyota 4Runner and Nissan Maxima. This, in turn, will allow for the optimum design of the HPEMS. Figure on the right presents a sample of the measurement results – frequency response of the Dodge Dakota’s ignition switch for both H and V-polarizations. Note the resonances at 760 and 1,250 MHz, which indicate that these are the “vulnerable” frequencies for this vehicle – clearly an optimal choice of HPEMS’ operational frequencies in this particular case. The determination of vehicle’s “vulnerable” frequencies plays a key role in the developing of an optimal high-power microwave system, resulting in the reduction of the system requirements on the radiated power, system size and weight.
Earlier, Eureka Aerospace developed system concepts for both 5-km perimeter protection and vehicle immobilization on highways, where detailed analysis of the HPEMS and design curves for power and aperture requirements were carried out. Currently, a prototype HPEMS to be hosted by a Ford Crown Victoria is being fabricated at Eureka’s microwave laboratory with anticipated completion by October 2005, and subsequent full-scale tests in November 2005 at Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s (LASD) range facility. The Current Technology Readiness Level (TRL) is 6. The next step would be the development of a larger HPEMS system for MARCORSYSCOM and OPNAV(Navy) to be deployed on top of the building and oil-gas fueling platform, respectively, for a 5-km perimeter protection purpose.