CU Denver Professor Finds Solution to Car Theft 

December 11, 2023

You are more likely to have your auto stolen during the holiday season than any other time of the year. And the chances are greater in the Denver metro area, which ranks among the worst cities in American for auto thefts. 

University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) Engineering Assistant Professor Liang He is using the very technology thieves are employing to foil their cyber-attacks.  

Thieves are using wireless communications to hijack key fobs or tap directly into your vehicle’s onboard communication network to unlock, start, and drive away your wheels all in just a few minutes. All you need is a computer or phone, a wi-fi connection, and the know-how. “The way they are doing it, you used to only see in the movies, but it is happening all the time now,” said He from his office at CU Denver’s downtown campus. “and we saw the opportunity to use batteries to stop them.” 

Read more from 9NEWS: Push to start cars can get stolen in seconds — CU Denver researchers are developing a solution

He and his students worked with counterparts at the University of Michigan to develop a compact device that uses your vehicle’s battery to prevent these hacks. Thanks to a National Science Foundation grant, they are field testing the Battery Sleuth on their way to making the device available to the consumer. 

The device uses the electrical system or battery power in your vehicle to create a unique sequence of low-voltage electrical impulses that only you can trigger when you get into the car. Without the right combination, your car won’t start.  

Assistant Professor Liang He demonstrates his anti-theft technology on his car.

Battery Sleuth also guards against physical intrusions by triggering a siren or even shutting down the vehicle’s electrical system before the thief can start the engine.  

He began working on this idea after several years of research into the best way to maximize your smartphone’s battery life. He took lessons learned there to develop the idea of being able to use a battery to do more than just power a device. “Our team is developing a system that we think has broad applications,” He said. “We are currently working on several projects with smartphones, vehicles and even satellites. The goal: keep them safe.” 

He joined CU Denver in 2017. He holds multiple degrees in computer science. Before joining the college of Engineering, Computing and Design, he served as a research fellow at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He has published more than 100 research articles and has more than 2,500 citations. He is a senior member of the IEEE and has presented at numerous conferences around the world.  

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