I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave

Dig this: A bunch of engineers have developed a technology for stopping a truck by remote control. And I mean really remote control — the instructions come down from a satellite. Why? Because, they argue, this could make for a neat security application, as the New Scientist reports:

Engineers at Satellite Security Systems’ headquarters in San Diego, California, took less than 40 seconds to bring a truck in Sacramento, 850 kilometres away, to a standstill. They used Motorola’s satellite data transfer network with its network of base stations to beam instructions to a small transceiver in the truck.

Since 9/11, the US government has worried about terrorists using trucks transporting flammable or hazardous loads to attack buildings or bridges. The State of California has already drafted legislation that would make “stopping devices” a compulsory addition to all hazardous vehicles by 2005.

“A fuel truck could be used for a terrorist bombing since it contains an explosive potential roughly equivalent to that of a commercial jetliner,” says Bill Wattenburg, an engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

Of course, as with all security applications, the knife cuts two ways. Imagine the government being able to take control of your car — if they decided that you were about to do something “insurgent”.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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