28 January 2008

The Empire State Building Ate My Car

There's a bizarre story in the Daily News today about how 10 to 15 cars get stranded each day in a five-block 'Bermuda Triangle' near the Empire State Building; known for it's Art Deco mast and it's 203-foot-tall, antenna-laden spire.

Since 9/11, the building has regained its status as the leading transmission site for commercial broadcast outfits, with 13 TV and 19 FM stations mounting antennas on its spire.

The Empire State Building Co., which refused to provide the paper with a list of its antennas, denied it has created any “adverse impact” on automobiles.

“If the claim were indeed true, the streets in the vicinity of the building would be constantly littered with disabled vehicles,” the building’s owner said.

But according to many doormen in the area, they often are.

RF refers to radio frequency, the mode of communication for wireless technologies of all kinds, including cordless phones, radar, GPS, and radio and television broadcasts.

RF technology is so much a part of our lives we barely notice it for its ubiquity. From baby monitors to cell phones, Bluetooth to remote control toys, RF waves are all around us.

RF waves are electromagnetic waves which propagate at the speed of light, or 186,000 miles per second (300,000 km/s). The frequencies of RF waves, however, are slower than those of visible light, making RF waves invisible to the human eye.

So naturally people surmise that the high RF coming from the 102-story building is causing problems to the automobile electronic systems; namely the computers on new cars that now control everything.

The problem is that in this day and age, while you can still use "brute force" via an actual old fashioned key to open the door (in most cars), you can have something go haywire in the electronics. In that case, the "brain" of the car can more or less seize up and prevent the car from starting altogether.

A computer pretty much runs every aspect of a car these days from power & battery management, to anti-theft, transmission, etc. There are actually several systems with their own "brains" and they are all dependent on each other. So if there is so much as a blip in the wrong system at the wrong time, you are looking at a 2 ton paperweight. So, I can see how one may believe that a strong RF field can throw a wrench in the works.

Although most transmission systems are designed to NOT radiate directly vertical, there is no way to prevent some of the RF from spilling over into the vertical plane. High-intensity RF fields, regardless of frequency, do tend to "swamp" other, especially sensitive electronic equipment within RF fields.

And since the Empire State Buildin' is certainly is the Mecca of all RF sources in the metro area this is definitely possible. Along with FM there are now broad(er) band TV signals of both AM and FM components, and I'm sure more than one communications antennae located on the building. The overall RF levels on that building must be staggering.

So it would stand to reason that, especially a block or two from the base of the "tower" (the ESB is really just a tower, RF wise) I would assume a certain level of "swamping" to occur.

There is also a possibility that one of the antennae on the Empire State Buildin' might have gone out of tolerance. There are just certain laws of physics that no matter the design, cannot be eliminated; attenuated yes, eliminated no.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I believe this problem is due to the fact that the frequencies used by cars do not have priority over the broadcasts on the same frequency by the empire state building, which are TV stations. Car remote priority status is something like "must not cause interference; must ACCEPT any interference". I believe they are "FCC part 14" devices on a very poorly chosen frequency. (SOOL)