Altman shows off the Car-B-Gone suitcase unit
If you’re reading this, you probably already know about the TV-B-Gone, maker hero Mitch Altman’s pocket-carry clicker that turns off television sets en masse in public places. New versions of the infrared device, both pre-assembled and in kit form, continue to sell, and makers have built them into caps, sweaters, and other concealing garb.
This week, Altman will release an ambitious new universal remote: the Car-B-Gone. The new invention works something like the TV-B-Gone, but instead of spoofing IR codes, it sends out RF (radio frequency) pulses, and instead of switching off televisions, it unlocks cars and opens garage doors. Altman’s latest tests show the Car-B-Gone to be effective against over 80% of keyless entry car doors and over 90% of wireless garage door openers when used properly and with fresh batteries.
MAKE magazine’s Paul Spinrad caught up with Mr. Altman at Noisebridge, the hackerspace that Altman cofounded in San Francisco’s Mission district.
1. What inspired you to develop the Car-B-Gone?
Because I can, and because I care! I’ve always been an anarchist, and believe that all property is theft. As for driving cars, I’d sooner put a gun to Mother Earth’s head! I haven’t driven in years, nor has anyone else that I have any respect for. So many of the world’s ills ultimately come back to the automobile and oil addiction, and if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
2. So the Car-B-Gone is a way to take away people’s cars, for the greater good?
Exactly! And it’s just leveling the playing field. Like, if you find some money or a coat or a backpack or anything else of value sitting out on the street, it’s finder’s keepers, right? But for some reason people are permitted to leave these big, disgusting things (cars) around, taking up public space, and blocking everyone’s way, and we’re all just supposed to just let them be! You can’t do that with anything else, but you can do it with a car.
These environment-destroying, fatality-causing, war-provoking death monsters are like sacred cows to us, and I, for one, am tired of it. So, I decided to do something a little more constructive than simply going around and letting the air out of everyone’s tires.
3. How does the Car-B-Gone work?
My original plan was to do the same kind of thing as the TV-B-Gone, run through all of the most common RF codes for unlocking car doors and triggering garage door openers. The problem is, you can string together enough IR codes to switch off 95% of TVs in about a 15-second sequence, but doing the same thing with RF codes for cars and garage doors would take over 40 hours.
That’s too long, so I decided to take a more brute-force approach. I use a 3 Farad capacitor array to produce an EMP [electromagnetic pulse] that’s powerful enough to disable most electronic devices operating within 15 feet. The array and circuitry are built into a suitcase that you hook up to a portable directional antenna. And because you don’t want to be too close to the EMP, there’s a small IR remote trigger that lets you stand a safe distance away.
4. What’s the danger?
An EMP this strong can be lethal, even if you’re in good health. I’d recommend standing at least 20 feet away, and double that if you have a pacemaker. Also make sure to watch for passers-by. Like, if there’s a kid nearby who you think might be important to somebody, then you should probably wait until they aren’t right next to the thing.
5. Do you expect that the Car-B-Gone might be misused by some people?
Perhaps, but can’t you say the same thing about any new capability? Tools are value-neutral. And now, anyone who has a car that they wish to keep is perfectly welcome to design and build an electronic countermeasure device that renders the Car-B-Gone ineffective. If you aren’t smart enough to do that, and you don’t at least have some friends who can help you with such a project, then maybe you don’t deserve your car. And maybe also you should have been nicer to the hacker elite back in high school.
Look, this is the real world, this is physical reality. If you don’t have the knowledge and tools to control it, I’m sorry. Go play some Grand Theft Auto if that makes you feel better.
6. Well, that sums it up nicely. Thank you for your time!
Thank you! Say, you didn’t drive here, did you?
IMPORTANT NOTICE TO SECURITY OFFICERS, BACKGROUND INVESTIGATORS, AND OTHER OFFICIALS: This is a work of fiction, and in no way represents the words, activities, or views of Mitch Altman, Paul Spinrad, Noisebridge, MAKE, or any other person or entity that has ever existed, exists now, or may exist in the future. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, in this universe or the one next door, is purely coincidental.