Ford announces new heated sanitation software for police SUVs
The new technology allows police to heat vehicles up to 133 degrees Fahrenheit to disinfect vehicle touchpoints
Phoebe Wall Howard
Detroit Free Press
NEW YORK — In response to an idea from New York police officers concerned about the coronavirus, Ford announced Wednesday it's launching a "heated sanitation software" technology available now that essentially cooks away viruses inside 2013-2019 Police Interceptor SUVs.
The company tested the new software in vehicles owned by the Michigan State Police, New York City Police and Los Angeles Police, and the agencies are now using the technology, confirmed Elizabeth Kraft, Ford spokeswoman.
The new technology allows police to heat vehicles "up to 133 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes — long enough to help disinfect vehicle touchpoints," Ford said.
A team at The Ohio State University helped figure out the temperature and duration of time required "to help inactivate" COVID-19. The software is available immediately for use in Police Interceptor SUVs in the U.S. and Canada.
The heat spike is not generated by the routine climate system in the vehicle, Kraft explained. Instead, the new software allows the vehicle to engage the powertrain to run a higher idle than it's able to do without the software, thus creating more heat to be transferred the cabin, she said.
The company is looking to make it available in other police vehicles, Ford said.
“First responders are on the front lines protecting all of us. They are exposed to the virus and are in dire need of protective measures,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford chief product development and purchasing officer. “We’ve turned the vehicle’s powertrain and heat control systems into a virus neutralizer.”
A heat level that exceeds 133 degrees Fahrenheit is comparable to the highest temperatures recorded in places like Death Valley and parts of Libya and Tunisia.
“Our studies with Ford Motor Company indicate that exposing coronaviruses to temperatures of 56 degrees Celsius, or 132.8 degrees Fahrenheit, for 15 minutes reduces the viral concentration by greater than 99 percent on interior surfaces and materials used inside Police Interceptor Utility vehicles,” said Jeff Jahnes and Jesse Kwiek, laboratory supervisors at Ohio State's microbiology department.
When the heat process has begun, "hazard lights and tail lights will flash in a preset pattern, then will change at the end to signal completion." The instrument cluster will also indicate progress. A cool-down process brings the temperature down, Ford said.
The heat sanitizing process is not done with people inside the vehicle.
Ford engineers began studying the heat decontamination project in late March.
"Shortly after, a discussion with the New York City Police Department alerted Ford to its need for a more efficient disinfecting process during the pandemic," Ford said.
Stephen Tyler, Ford police brand marketing manager, said, “Law enforcement officers are being dispatched as emergency responders in some cases where ambulances may not be available. During one trip, officers may be transporting a coronavirus patient to a hospital, while another trip may involve an occupant who may be asymptomatic.”
These heat cleaning efforts may help disinfect vehicles between passenger use.
“Officers can now use this self-cleaning mode as an extra layer of protection inside the vehicle in areas where manual cleaning is prone to be overlooked,” Tyler said.
The 2013-2019 model years make up the majority of Police Interceptor vehicles in use, with 176,000 in the U.S. alone, Kraft told the Free Press.
Some police department service centers can install the software, while other agencies will need to work with local Ford dealers:
- For 2016-19 police vehicles, the heated software process can be activated by a sequence of commands that involves pressing cruise control buttons in a predefined order.
- For 2013-15 vehicles, this mode can be activated and carried out through an external tool that connects to the onboard diagnostics port.
This high-temp strategy, when combined with cleaning guidelines approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "can help reach areas that may be missed by manual disinfecting procedures. Heat has the ability to seep into crevices and hard-to-reach areas, helping reduce the impact of human error in applying chemical disinfectants," Ford said in its announcement.
Ford noted that engineers tested factory-built Police Interceptor Utility vehicles. Ambient temperature, installation of partitions or other upfit equipment such as radio systems, computers, and other electronic safety and lifesaving equipment common to police vehicles may impede temperatures from reaching the recommended threshold, Ford said.
The impact of high temperatures on the vehicle interior or its electrical equipment was not part of the study, Kraft confirmed.
It has not been determined whether the software will be available outside the U.S. and Canada, she said.