Friday Squid Blogging: Safe Quick Undercarriage Immobilization Device (SQUID)

New security device:

But what if an officer could lay down a road trap in seconds, then activate it from a nearby hiding place? What if—like sea monsters of ancient lore—the trap could reach up from below to ensnare anything from a MINI Cooper to a Ford Expedition? What if this trap were as small as a spare tire, as light as a tire jack, and cost under a grand?

Thanks to imaginative design and engineering funded by the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Office of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), such a trap may be stopping brigands by 2010. It's called the Safe Quick Undercarriage Immobilization Device, or SQUID. When closed, the current prototype resembles a cheese wheel full of holes. When open (deployed), it becomes a mass of tentacles entangling the axles. By stopping the axles instead of the wheels, SQUID may change how fleeing drivers are, quite literally, caught.

Of course, there's a lot separating a cool idea from reality. But it is a cool idea.

Posted on January 30, 2009 at 4:34 PM • 36 Comments


Davi OttenheimerJanuary 30, 2009 6:06 PM

requires manual release a 1/2 second before a vehicle arrives? sounds very error-prone. and then it has to detect engine heat to activate...? the trigger mechanisms seem a bit fishy.

RoyJanuary 30, 2009 6:10 PM

Once this thing locks up the front wheels, the car is uncontrollable. The driver will be unable to avoid hitting someone in his path, and this will lead to lawsuits.

Targeting the front tires seems to me a bad choice.

RandyJanuary 30, 2009 6:23 PM

WOW. A security device and a squid blog all in one.

Bruce must be in heaven...


RandyJanuary 30, 2009 6:30 PM

Did you read the article *below* the truck stopping squid? It's about protecting the milk supply from poisoning.

It sure seems like the only people that will really benefit from this will be the lock suppliers.

Besides couldn't you simple drill a small hole in the tanker?

Opps...I hope I didn't give anyone an idea.


Dick CheneyJanuary 30, 2009 9:37 PM

What if the terrorists get hold of this and use it to disrupt school buses? Can we just once think about the children? I think this device should be banned.

another bruceJanuary 30, 2009 10:19 PM

i dunno about this, chief. i'd have to see it in action, in a neutral context not set up by its marketer.

yes, axles turn, but they're sheathed in another metal tube which doesn't turn. i doubt this will replace spiderman. you need something elastic but strong enough that it won't ultimately break. a speeding ford expedition has a lot of momentum; i'm having trouble imagining something as light as a tire jack functioning as described.

you know how prongs shoot out of a taser? howbout a treble grappling hook that shoots out of a winch, which is mounted on the front bumper of the patrol car? this device aims at the ground right under the speeding car's rear and ideally bounces up and catches the axle. if the cop misses the first time, he can winch the hook back in quickly and shoot it again. it would be spring-propelled, and the springs could be recompressed between shoots. this makes about as much sense as the squid device.

Captain NedJanuary 30, 2009 10:29 PM

@another bruce:

Tube axles live on only under pickup trucks, big SUVs, and Jeep Wranglers. Anything with an independent suspension has its axles twisting in the breeze.

A nonny bunnyJanuary 31, 2009 3:36 AM

A spike strip seems to me an altogether cheaper, lighter and smaller solution.
If I see something the size of a spare tire lying on the road, I wouldn't be much inclined to ride over it.

Mr. BriggsJanuary 31, 2009 4:53 AM

Dateline 2011: Spike strips all but replaced by SQUID, the Amphicar--among others with either no exposed axles or no axles at all--has become the vehicle of choice for the discerning getaway driver.

"The lack of underside exposure really makes a big difference!", said one. "Oh, sure, the cops eventually get you in the end, but the chase is a lot more interesting."

Alan (2)January 31, 2009 5:01 AM

There is no way this is going to stop any small european or japanese front wheel drive: drive elements are always pretty well protected by the lower triangles and other flat plate elements. You need it e.g. for gravel projection.

On the other hand, it may indeed block directivity, and Roy has a point as regards police liability.


Clive RobinsonJanuary 31, 2009 7:34 AM

Am I the only one to read the last bit,

"... will spawn a generation of offspring—in this case, a family of nonlethal stopping devices for land, sea, and air…"


Begs the question how do you safely stop an aircraft in flight. It's not exactly going to just hang around...

Josh OJanuary 31, 2009 9:16 AM


I'm pretty sure that stopping an aircraft safely is going to require some really large balloons, or a giant helicopter with dangling sentient tentacles to "catch" the fleeing aircraft.

aikimarkJanuary 31, 2009 10:28 AM

Of course the proof-of-concept references a large rear-wheel-drive truck. How/why else would you boost the hype?!? You want to make it attractive enough for DHS purchase.

What isn't mentioned is how you get a vehicle to drive DIRECTLY over the center of the device or what happens if the vehicle runs over the device.

I'm skeptical.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 31, 2009 10:43 AM

@ Josh O,

"require some really large balloons, or a giant helicopter with dangling sentient tentacles"

You have given me an idea 8)

Don't dangle tentacles from a helicopter, dangle from the balloons instead, and if you make the balloons slightly American football shaped with fins at the top and colourd Xmas tree lights down the side so that it looks just like,

A Giant flying squid...

Which makes me realise that's it it's all just a hoax for Bruce's benift 8)

Ride FastJanuary 31, 2009 2:03 PM

As per usual, everyone forgets motorcyclists. First time something like this snares a scoot and throws the rider the liability lawsuits will fly.

Just like the rider did.

another bruceJanuary 31, 2009 10:13 PM

captain ned, you may be right, all i've ever owned in my adult life have been trucks, so i have relatively little experience with the underside of cars.

but i gottanother idea for stopping fleeing cars. back in the early-mid 1970s i spent some time on the road, hitchhiking and hopping freight trains, and i ran into an old coot up north who had a neat device, like a circular fishnet a yard or so in diameter with 7-8 fishing sinkers tied around the sides, and when he got hungry, he would go to the park and throw it perfectly, so it would expand into a circle before settling over a pigeon, and mmmm, squab for din din.

just expand the diameter of this thing 10x, bigger weights, and shoot it out of the front bumper of the cop car. it'll have a cable attached to its rear, attached in turn to a winch on the bumper, and when the net settles over the fleeing car, the cop car just slows down and winches in the pigeon.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 1, 2009 2:58 AM

@ another bruce,

"a neat device, like a circular fishnet a yard or so in diameter with 7-8 fishing sinkers tied around the sides... ...throw it perfectly, so it would expand into a circle before settling over a pigeon,"

Sounds like a cross between a South American Bolas and a "Cast Net".

The problem with making them bigger than 10ft or so in diameter is the energy required. The mass goes up proportional to the square of the diameter, which means the weights have to increase corespondingly in mass and to keep the tension for spreading the net the rotational speed also needs to go up significantly.

Something 10 times the size would probably have enough energy in it to cut a bystander in half should it go wrong.

Chris DrostFebruary 1, 2009 5:44 AM

No, Clive. The problem with making the fishnet would be that a car would tear through the fishnet. :-P

If the speeding car has an obvious side channel to attack, it's probably the gas tank. If you could efficiently drain a car of gas without risking an explosion, the car would be forced to coast to a complete stop, no matter how fast it was going. I can imagine little RC battle-bots with a little rocket-fuel propulsion, which drive up to the car, latch onto the rear bumper, locate the fuel-tank, and play stabbity-stabbity.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 1, 2009 8:17 AM

@ Chris Drost,

"I can imagine little RC battle-bots with a little rocket-fuel propulsion, which drive up to the car, latch onto the rear bumper, locate the fuel-tank, and play stabbity-stabbity."

Uh no...

I can see you are not "hot" on "Intrinsic Safety" (Ex). With the fuel sloshing about it will be a Zone 1 hazard area at best.

The chances are the fuel or worse the vapour will go over the battle-bot which for obvious reasons (energy) is going to be a serious ignition risk...

Also a lot of cars to be stopped are stolen and I don't think the insurance company are going to be to impressed with having a fuel tank that looks like a Swiss Cheese, the repair cost is going to be a heck of a lot more than a change of wheel rubber.

Also comercial vehicles tend to have large fuel tanks and 400 ltr of fuel oil is going to take a considerable time to drain, and worse it's on the road which is going to be bad news for following traffic.

Something tells me you have a little demon on your shoulder that has the taste for things hot hot hot and you realy should not be listening 8)

NeighborcatFebruary 1, 2009 7:57 PM

While pondering the most fun way to stop a fleeing vehicle is admittedly fun, is this crowd going to let this sentence from the article get past without comment?

"Fleeing drivers are a common problem for law enforcement."

Are they really?

There is no disputing high speed chases are a problem for police. They often involve law enforcement's two least favorite things: legal liability and live cameras.

But how common are high speed chases? They are very common on You Tube and "TV's Most Maudlin Videos", but in the realm of things that endanger the public and consume law enforcements resources, where do chases rank?

Homework! Lets all see what data we can find on the relative effectiveness of "chase" versus "no-chase" police policies.

I'm not lecturing here, I really am curious. I find it hard to believe that chasing or forcibly stopping vehicles, especially in urban areas, is effective in any way...but I could be wrong.


CalumFebruary 2, 2009 3:37 AM

@Neighborcat - I was chatting with a police officer not that long ago about this. He reckoned that most chases end pretty tamely within a couple of minutes of starting as soon as the perpetrator realises it's a bad idea. The one that end up on TV or wrapped around a tree are very much a minority.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 2, 2009 6:44 AM


I suspect that chases are quite frequent but I doubt that very many would end up using a specialised stoping device.

If you think about it to deploy it you need to,

1, get somebody with the device ahead of the vehicle being chased.

2, In a place with sufficient cover to hide in / behind.

3, with sufficient time to park up out of sight, get the device out of the boot/trunk and into cover and then get the device ready for use.

Now I don't know about your neighborhood, but in London there are very few places this can happen in an area of well over 1000 square miles.

bobFebruary 2, 2009 9:05 AM

I suspect high-speed chases are fairly uncommon or they wouldnt be on TV.

Spend the money on something that actually improves the general welfare, like making tamper-resistant video mandatory in all police cars and police stations. And making it unlawful to prohibit people from videoing public servants on duty in public.

JasonFebruary 2, 2009 11:52 AM

"I can imagine little RC battle-bots with a little rocket-fuel propulsion, which drive up to the car, latch onto the rear bumper..."

You, good sir, need to watch Runaway (1984).

As for the SQUID, the objections here re "what about motorcycles?" "what about bystanders?" are not a big problem, because the device is actively controlled by an intelligent human, who's presumably smart enough to avoid activating it in unsafe conditions.

(Though I suppose that presumption is iffy, given the history of police using "nonlethal" weapons in my town...)

On the other hand, the objection re "it probably won't work on a lot of cars with protected moving parts" is a showstopper.

Spike strips may be low tech, but they spell "end of chase sequence" for just about any car on the road.

Chris DrostFebruary 2, 2009 12:47 PM

@Clive -- Maybe I was unclear about my plans, since "stabbity stabbity" is, I admit, a bit glib. My plan for the robots was for them to collect the gas in a separate tank -- the puncture mechanism would be inside a tube that had a decent seal on the gas tank. That was why they needed to latch onto the bumper -- they need to be reasonably stable relative to the target, and they will be gaining a lot of mass in the process.

If there's a big flaw in my idea, it's that I haven't been under many cars in my life. I have no idea how accessible the fuel tank is, from under a typical one. In the Netherlands, we all bike everywhere we want to go.

chuckpFebruary 2, 2009 6:29 PM

@Chris Drost
It just occurred to me: If Robo-Stop is going to jet on ahead and latch onto the rear of the fleeing vehicle, a simpler, safer way to stop the vehicle would be to have Robo-Stop lower a friction plate and lift the rear. Steering control is retained, but you have just applied an enormous brake. The engineering challenge is in giving the jack enough range of motion to deal with everything from a low-slung sports car to a jacked up truck, as well as the power to lift a commercial truck.

NeighborcatFebruary 3, 2009 6:14 AM

I've done some homework now, chases are infrequent and usually end with the fugitive stopping when they realize a Ford Focus can't outrun a police car, so I deem this device to be yet another lame attempt at selling a government entity something they don't need, a most patriotic endeavor!

What I found very disturbing were the blogs by and for law enforcement officers supporting a "Chase them to the ends of Hell" (actually a quote) policy regardless of the consequences, and deriding "no chase" policies as management interference. Um, ride-em cowboy! Yeehaw. Hopefully this is not representative of most officers views.

I noticed in the video that the squid device stopped the truck by wrapping the prop shaft, not the axle, and locked both rear wheels. A 35 mph skid is one thing, a 60+ mph unrecoverable skid is another entirely, and it wouldn't work on front wheel drive cars, not because the straps can't reach the axle, but because on front drive cars, the axle turns at the same speed as the wheel, and therefore has magnitudes more torque (and a much smaller diameter) than the geared-up drive shaft (turns at roughly the same speed as the engine)

Really, if you can get in front of the fleeing vehicle to deploy a device, I recommend...

a giant sticky trap like the ones used against mice,

or better yet, the Acme contact cement used against Roadrunners, or...

hiring Iraqi insurgents as consultants.


-ac-February 3, 2009 9:33 AM

@ Clive
> Begs the question how do you safely stop an aircraft in flight. It's not exactly going to just hang around...

You asked for it...
On the ground, its SQUID.
In the air, it's snakes on a plane. :-P

Kevin HighlandFebruary 3, 2009 9:37 AM

I just recently started reading and am curious...What is the fascination with SQUIDS?

NeighborcatFebruary 3, 2009 8:53 PM

OK, just kidding.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I find squid, and other Cephalopods fascinating because their physiology is about as different from humans as you can get, yet they possess intelligence not unlike our own in terms of how they solve problems. Maybe not in complexity, but they do it without thumbs or digital watches. Makes the pedestal we humans place ourselves on just a little bit shorter. I like that.

Cephalopods are smarter than your average dog and possibly your congressman. Probably smarter than me in a Zen sort of way. I'm OK with that.

Watch a cuttlefish hunt up close sometime. Watch them watch *you*. You'll understand.


Clive RobinsonFebruary 3, 2009 11:19 PM

@ Neighborcat,

"I find squid, and other Cephalopods fascinating because their physiology is about as different from humans as you can get,"

I liked the Horseshoe crab for similar reasons when I was young for it's "alien blood" and how they have not evolved.

"... yet they possess intelligence not unlike our own in terms of how they solve problems. Maybe not in complexity"

My fav' for that is the common or garden rat. For it's size of brain it's probably the smartest creature we ordinarily come into contact with. They easily out smart cats, dogs and humans Oh and congress men all of whom have brains many many times the size (Oh and unlike rabbits and hamsters they make great pets for children if only adults would stop being oh so squeamish ;)

Next on the pet list with smarts/for brain size would probably be ferrets who are part of the polecat family (the real preditors of rats so need to be smart). They have all the best bits of cats and dogs and not realy any of the downsides (except digging). Ferrets are fastideously clean, extreamly sociable, inquisative and once aquainted will live in groups and play, importantly unlike cats and dogs they never appear to grow up so remain fun.

penguatFebruary 15, 2009 6:07 AM

If you can do Robo-stop, why bother pumping out fuel? All you actually need to do is plug the fuel line. Or stop the fuel pump.

The end result of robbing a vehicle of fuel, however, can easily be a poorly understood cough, and then a skid. Especially at high speed.

BJFebruary 16, 2009 8:11 PM

Some cars have multiple fuel pumps to combat 'vapor-lock'. I think many even have a pump _inside_ the gas tank.

Crimping the fuel line sounds good, but crimping a metal line is likely to break it.

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