May 28, 2020 - Economy & Business

Ford cranks up heat in self-cleaning police cars to kill coronavirus

Ford is piloting a new heated sanitization software solution that can help neutralize the COVID-19 virus inside its Police Interceptor Utility vehicles, which helps decrease the potential spread of the virus. Photo: Ford

Ford has developed software that literally bakes the interior of police cars to kill traces of the coronavirus that other cleaning methods might have missed.

Why it matters: The self-cleaning heat treatment is an example of how vehicle manufacturers and transit providers are experimenting with sanitization methods in the COVID-19 era.

The big picture: Police officers are at risk of contracting the virus because they are often dispatched to transport COVID-19 patients when ambulances are not available. Alternatively, they could easily transport individuals who are asymptomatic. Ford, the largest supplier of police vehicles, hopes its sanitization method helps reduce the spread of the virus.

How it works: The software, available on 176,000 hybrid-electric Ford Explorers sold as Police Interceptor Utility vehicles, uses the car's own engine and climate control systems to temporarily raise the cabin temperature to 133 degrees — hotter than Death Valley on its hottest day, Ford says.

  • The temperature is maintained for 15 minutes — long enough to disinfect nooks and crannies that manual cleaning can miss — while flashing lights let officers know the process is underway.
  • Ford partnered with researchers at Ohio State University to verify its effectiveness and tested it on police vehicles in New York, California, Michigan, Massachusetts, Ohio and Florida.
  • "Our studies with Ford 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," Jeff Jahnes and Jesse Kwiek, laboratory supervisors at Ohio State's department of microbiology, said in a statement.

The big question: Can similar methods be used to create self-cleaning transit buses, subway cars and taxis?

  • Ford says it has no plans to use the technology beyond police vehicles.
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