It might look like something out of a Mad Max or Bond flick, but it’s a real-world tool designed to let police deflate the dangers of high-speed car chases.
The MobileSpike attaches to the front of a squad car. When officers race up alongside a suspect’s vehicle, the gadget uses compressed air to shoot a strip of spikes sideways under the suspect’s tire. Bam. End of chase.
After finishing the design, MobileSpike CEO Michael Moormeier said, he could see the MobileSpike attached to the Batmobile — if Hollywood or Bruce Wayne ever came calling.
“It is James Bond cool,” he said, “there’s no doubt about it.”
The gadget is one of several meant to put the brakes on high-speed chases, which, according to one estimate, have accounted for the deaths of more than 5,000 bystanders since 1979. While police departments continue adopting policies against chasing suspects, there have been more pursuit-related deaths in 2013 than in 1990, rising from 317 to 322.
“It’s completely unacceptable now,” Moormeier said. “Someone dies every single day in America because of a pursuit.”
There’s also the Grappler, which seems to have taken inspiration from the wild west. The add-on attaches to the front bumper of a police car and lets officers lay a lasso beneath a suspect’s back tire. From there, they can brake and drag the suspect to a stop.
The StarChase tries to avoid dangerous pursuits altogether. It shoots out a tracker that latches onto a suspect’s car and lets police follow at a distance.
“We pride ourselves on removing adrenaline from these types of situations,” said StarChase President Trevor Fischbach. Officers are “learning in the 21st century, you can’t use brute force tactics all the time to get to the end game.”
Moormeier wanted to create something officers were already used to but with a safe way of getting it in front of cars.
“Spike strips” had been the go-to solution for many major police departments since the 1970s. But officers have to manually lay such a strip across the road, which means law enforcement personnel can be hit by the very car they’re trying to stop. In 2012, Dallas police outlawed the strips after five officers were killed.
An alternative lets police place a box by the road and extend a spike strip out of it by remote control. But the officers still have to set up the box.
With its shoot-from-the-side design, the MobileSpike adapts an existing chase maneuver in which police bring their front bumper parallel to the suspect’s back bumper; then knock the suspect’s car sideways, causing it to fishtail till it stops.
“It’s no different than…passing a car on the highway,” said Rick Eldridge, a police official in Sanford, Florida. “It’s very safe.”
Eldridge’s department was one of the early adopters of MobileSpike, helping Moormeier test it in 2009 before it was revealed to the public. Eldridge has arrested about 10 people in chases since the department started using MobileSpike. At first, though, he couldn’t believe it was real. He hadn’t heard of any upgrades to spike strips in decades.
Moormeier also wanted to keep the MobileSpike as simple as possible; the last thing officers need during a police chase is a gadget with too many settings.
The device activates just like how you’d turn on your windshield wipers, or Speed Racer would turn on his tree-cutters: with a switch and a big red button that launches the line of spikes in about six seconds.
So far, the gadget has been tested in all terrains and temperatures, from Alaska to Arizona.
“I’ve used it quite a few times,” Eldridge said,” and we’d arrest suspects and they’d say, ‘what happened to my tire?'”