Ford develops software to fend off the coronavirus in police vehicles

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In the wake of the current Covid-19 pandemic, police officers and other emergency responders have been one of the hardest hit groups in a number of cities. In Detroit alone, several hundred police officers were infected and more than a thousand had to be quarantined after being discovered. Starting in late March, engineers at Ford got down to work finding ways to reduce officials’ exposure to the virus. They have developed a novel software solution that removes them almost completely from the interior of police vehicles.

Like most microorganisms, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 has a limited range of temperatures in which it can survive. Make the cabin of a police cruiser hot enough and the virus will be disabled. Unfortunately, the air conditioning is not designed to normally make the cabin that hot.

Working with researchers at Ohio State University, it was found that a 15-minute soak at 133 degrees Fahrenheit kills over 99% of the virus in the cubicle, even on surfaces that might otherwise be missed when cleaning. The engineers modified the software on the powertrain and body control computers to enable a new heat-soak mode.

The new software will initially be launched from 2013 to 2019 on the Explorer-based Police Interceptor utility. On models from 2016 onwards, the heating bath is activated by pressing a specific sequence of cruise control buttons. For the 2013-2015 models, a diagnostic tool can be connected to activate it. When activated, the engine will run at a higher than normal idle speed to quickly bring the coolant to an operating temperature of 190-200 degrees.

The normal heating system in a vehicle passes hot coolant through a heat exchanger that heats the cabin air. The body control computer normally limits the interior temperature to a medium 80 degree range. However, the modifications allow it to rise to 133 degrees. As soon as the cabin has reached the target temperature, a timer automatically switches the mode off after 15 minutes and alerts the officers.

The heat soak mode can be used at the beginning and at the end of a shift when vehicles are handed over by officers and after the transport of potentially infected people. Since the same officers typically use a vehicle for a full shift, there is no need to keep it running. Ford has successfully conducted field trials with vehicles from New York City Police, Los Angeles, Michigan State Police, Massachusetts State Police, Boardman Township Police Department in Ohio, and Seminole County Sheriff’s Office in Florida.

Ford currently accounts for 63% of all police vehicle sales in the US, and the Explorer-based interceptor accounts for a clear majority of that. The software updates are made available to larger departments that maintain their own vehicles and dealerships that maintain vehicles from smaller departments. Based on the results of the current pilot program, Ford will decide whether to expand availability to other vehicle models, including the recently launched Police Utility 2020 and the older Taurus-based sedans.

The disinfection of the vehicle interior has been a topic of discussion in recent weeks at transport companies, taxi and ride-hailing companies and in the development of automated vehicles for future robotaxi applications. While this Ford solution is practical for police vehicles, it is unlikely to be practical for these other applications. Automated vehicles in particular are often electric vehicles and taxis and ride-hailing vehicles can’t wait 15 minutes between each passenger. For these use cases, solutions with advanced air filtration and ultraviolet light will likely need to be used.

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