Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn has designed a new heated software enhancement to pilot with its Police Interceptor Utility that is expected to help reduce the footprint of the COVID-19 virus. Using the vehicle’s powertrain and climate control systems, the vehicle’s interior is heated until viruses inside are inactivated.
The software solution is available immediately for download on all 2013-2019 Police Interceptor Utility vehicles in the U.S., Canada, and other countries.
“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,” says Hau Thai-Tang, chief product development and purchasing officer at Ford. “We looked at what’s in our arsenal and how we could step up to help. In this case, we’ve turned the vehicle’s powertrain and heat control systems into a virus neutralizer.”
The software enables vehicles to elevate passenger compartment temperatures beyond 133 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than Death Valley’s hottest day, for 15 minutes. This is long enough to disinfect vehicle touchpoints.
Once activated, the vehicle’s powertrain and climate control systems work together automatically to elevate temperatures. The engine is heated to an elevated level, and both heat and fan settings operate on high. The software monitors and maintains the interior temperature.
Ford worked with Ohio State University to research the effectiveness of the method and determine the optimal time and temperature.
“Our studies with Ford Motor Co. 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,” say Jeff Jahnes and Jesse Kwiek, laboratory supervisors at Ohio State’s department of microbiology, in a joint statement.
During the process, hazard lights and taillights flash in a preset pattern to notify the start. They then change at the end to signal completion. The vehicle’s instrument cluster also indicates progress. A cool-down process brings the temperature down from its highest points.
When used in conjunction with sanitation guidelines approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the heating method can help sanitize areas that may be missed by manual disinfecting procedures.
Ford conducted software operational trials in vehicles owned by the New York City Police Dept., Los Angeles Police Dept., Michigan State Police, Massachusetts State Police, Boardman Township Police Dept. in Ohio, and Seminole County Sheriff’s Office in Florida.
Large departments can install the solution using their own diagnostic service tools, while other fleets can work with local dealers to install the software.
For 2016-2019 police vehicles, the heated software process can be activated by a smart sequence of commands that involves pressing cruise control buttons in a certain order. For 2013-2015 vehicles, this mode can be activated and carried out through an external tool that connects to the onboard diagnostics port.
“Vehicles from the 2013 to 2019 model years make up the majority of Police Interceptor Utility vehicles currently in use by first responders,” says Stephen Tyler, police brand marketing manager for Ford. “Delivering this new capability to these vehicles first allows us to help as many officers as possible, as quickly as possible.”
Ford plans to continue working on ways to bring the software to additional Ford police vehicles.