DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. is testing new software in police vehicles that can heat the interior to 133 degrees — enough to destroy the novel coronavirus.
The software, available on 2013-19 model year Police Interceptor Utility vehicles in the U.S., Canada and other countries, uses the vehicle's powertrain and climate control systems to heat the cabin for 15 minutes and bake potential viruses. Ford partnered with researchers at Ohio State University to come up with the system 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 new software feature is among the first examples of automakers experimenting with ways to keep vehicle interiors sanitized in the age of COVID-19. Ford CEO Jim Hackett has suggested in recent interviews the automaker is exploring ways to add antimicrobial materials in future models.
In this instance, Ford wanted to focus on law enforcement — a high-profile and profitable business utilizing its Explorer crossovers.
"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," Hau Thai-Tang, Ford chief product development and purchasing officer, said in a statement. "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."
Ford said heat could be more effective than disinfectants or other sanitizing procedures, since it can reach areas that could be otherwise missed. The automaker said that hazard lights and taillights will flash in a preset pattern to notify officers the heating process has begun, and the vehicle's instrument cluster will also indicate progress.
Ford says large police departments with their own service centers can install the software themselves, while others can contact their local dealers.
The automaker said it is working to bring the software to more police vehicles.