If this didn't come straight from the White House, I wouldn't have believed it: the Air Force Research Lab just paid $25,000 for the rights to start building R/C cars that can chase down and immobilize fleeing vehicles with giant explosive airbags. Sweet!
Here's what the Air Force wants: "a viable, sustainable and affordable means of stopping an uncooperative fleeing vehicle (small car or truck) without permanent damage to the vehicle or harming any of the occupants." This is a very tricky proposition indeed, depending on how wide of a definition of "harming" and "permanent damage" you accept. The police, for example, have no idea how to do this, and the military is historically ill-equipped for finding creative ways of not harming people or damaging anything. This thing, called the SQUID, is the best that Homeland Security has been able to come up with:
Not bad, but it doesn't work unless the car runs over it, and it probably costs about a million dollars.
Need a fresh perspective on the problem, the government decided to open it up to anyone with good ideas, offering a $25,000 prize for the best concept. Dante Barbis, was a retired 66-year-old mechanical engineer from Lima, Peru, submitted the winning design, which the White House describes like so:
The solution consists of a remote electric-powered vehicle that can accelerate up to 130 MPH within 3 seconds, position itself under a fleeing car, then automatically trigger a restrained airbag to lift the car and slide it to a stop. This design overcomes the previous restrictions of having to preposition the system. It is almost universally applicable to multiple scenarios and it is very affordable. AFRL has assigned a team and allocated funding to build and test a prototype based on Barbis's detailed design. If the system passes all the operational testing, the prototype will be demonstrated to the USAF Security Forces and the design will be transitioned for operational use.
I don't know why we had to go to Peru to come up with a defensive system that can be cheap and effective and used as a freakin' awesome toy in our spare time, but open competitions like these really seem to be some of the best ways for the government to modernize and innovate. More prizes for exploding 130 MPH exploding toy cars, please.