Stopping car thieves via a satellite signal

October 15, 2007

by Mark Ollig

Here is the situation. Inside their squad car, police officers are waiting for a location message from the dispatcher regarding a stolen vehicle report.

The location of the stolen vehicle is being relayed to the local law enforcement agencies dispatch headquarters from an operations center using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology.

This information is then dispatched to the officers and they begin their pursuit. They have the stolen vehicle in sight – there are no other cars near the stolen vehicle as it hurries down the highway.

Now that the police officers have the vehicle in sight, the officers will communicate with the satellite operator to verify they are following the correct vehicle. To help make that determination, the satellite operator could make the stolen vehicle’s lights flash.

One of the police officers then radios in and says, “Activate stolen vehicle slowdown.”

Suddenly, the stolen vehicle begins to slow down and then comes to a complete stop. Bad car thieves are captured and the stolen car is returned to the rightful owner.

All this is possible, in part, to a satellite signal beamed down to the GPS receiver the owner had installed in his car.

The remote signal that was sent to the stolen car made it gradually slow down by remotely decreasing the flow of fuel to the engine – it also interacted with the vehicle’s power-train system to reduce engine power.

This action would enable the police to apprehend the driver without a risky high-speed chase.

Does this sound like something we would see in a futuristic science fiction movie?

Well, the people at the OnStar Center, which happens to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the General Motors Company, recently announced this kind of technology.

They call it “Stolen Vehicle Slowdown” and it will be available starting on the new General Motors 2009 OnStar-equipped models.

This service is provided by OnStar’s newest generation of hardware, which they call “Generation 8.”

Among other things, OnStar allows drivers, by pressing a button inside the car, to contact the OnStar call center operators for help with things like driving directions or emergency services.

We have all heard those radio commercials featuring recordings of actual conversations between drivers in distress and OnStar operators unlocking car doors.

The OnStar call-center operators are located in Detroit, Mich.

I learned that since 1996, OnStar has been providing “Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance,” to track the location of stolen vehicles and report them to police.

OnStar receives approximately 700 Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance requests from subscribers to their service each month. This company has helped in 28,000 requests over the past 10 years.

To use the Stolen Vehicle Slowdown feature, car owners must first report a car theft to the police and then contact OnStar to request the “tracking” procedure to begin. Once OnStar locates the vehicle, they would report its location to the police.

The location of the stolen vehicle is provided to the local law enforcement agency from OnStar using GPS technology.

Because OnStar uses global positioning technology, their operators can accurately direct police to the location of a stolen car.

The GPS measures how long it takes a radio signal from the satellite to reach the car, and then it calculates the distance. OnStar also is using this technology to enhance its ability to get a “fixed” location of a vehicle

“The Stolen Vehicle Slowdown service will allow our subscribers added peace of mind by possibly preventing their vehicle from being used as an instrument of harm if it happens to be stolen,” said Chet Huber, OnStar president.

“We look forward to having technologies like Stolen Vehicle Slowdown available to aid our officers in apprehending suspected car thieves and keeping our officers, highways, and citizens safe,” said David Hiller, national vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police on the OnStar web site.

Stolen Vehicle Slowdown will be included as part of OnStar’s Safe & Sound plan. After the first year, during which the service is free in most new General Motor vehicles, Safe & Sound costs $18.95 a month or $199 a year, as reported, on the OnStar website.

“Telematics” is the word that defines the technology of putting computer systems in cars.

Telematic systems are used in automobiles and combine wireless communication with GPS tracking. This term is further evolving to include a wide range of telecommunication functions that originate or end inside automobiles.

One of OnStar’s competitors since 1996 is a company called the “ATX Group,” which provides its automotive computing systems in cars like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Rolls-Royce.,

The ATX Group web site is located at http://www.atxna.com

OnStar provides services to more than 5 million subscribers in the US and Canada. More information about OnStar can be found at www.onstar.com.