Peacekeeping: Kinder and Gentler Vehicle Barriers


December1, 2006: The U.S. Air Force, which has a lot of security troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, wanted to come up with a better, and less lethal, way to stop civilian vehicles trying to race through check points. Currently, U.S. troops simply open fire, because the vehicle could be (and sometimes is) a suicide bomber. To address problem, the air force formed two teams, each of six engineers, and gave them $60,000 (for materials) and six months, and ordered them to come up with ways to stop these vehicles with minimal damage to the occupants. The two teams came up with several good ideas, all of which were recently tested using remotely controlled SUVs. The most promising device is simply a wooden wedge, that can be moved aside to let traffic pass. But if a vehicle tries to run over it, the vehicle wheels end up off the ground and spinning uselessly, with the vehicle jerked to a sudden stop. A similar concept used remotely triggered airbags to lift up, and halt, the vehicle. In both cases, the systems were tested against vehicles moving at about 55 kilometers an hour. Both systems work, in large part, because the vehicles are forced to slow down to negotiate a series of fixed barriers, used to channel traffic to the check point.

There are already several barrier systems for stopping vehicles, if you don't mind destroying the vehicle and its passengers. The problem here is stopping vehicles that try to rush through a lane being used to inspect vehicles at a checkpoint, without risking the lives of the passengers in the vehicle. The air force expects to send some of these new devices to Iraq early next year.




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