MacGyver Season 2 Episode 13 Science Notes: CO2 Sensor + Tree Branch

Let’s pause for a moment and review some things.

MacGyver is a show. It’s fictional. It’s not real. Some of the things are BASED on real science (and some of them are legitimately real). But it’s still a show. It’s like Star Wars—but without the light sabers. Everyone knows there is no way you could even THINK of making a lightsaber with science, but we like them anyway.

So, even though some of the hacks in the show are only slightly plausible, there is still an element of truth in there somewhere. Honestly, I’m just happy that anyone even cares to make a show that even considers real science. Thanks Peter!

OK, now for this episode’s MacGyver hacks.

Tracking a vehicle with CO2 sensors

So, there’s this runaway robot car with guns and the Phoenix team has to find it. It’s got stealth technology, so they can’t find it from above. That leaves MacGyver, Riley, and another girl in a car to track it down.

The idea is to use the carbon dioxide emitted from the robot. Yes, it’s a hybrid vehicle. That means it has an internal combustion engine. These things take in gasoline and produce energy along with carbon dioxide and other stuff. Oh, it’s this same carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming and climate change—just to be clear.

MacGyver grabs a CO2 sensor out of the car’s AC unit. Some more modern vehicles include a carbon monoxide detector to prevent passengers from getting poisoned. Some auto makers even have CO2 sensors—it’s true.

The plan is to have two CO2 sensor sticking out of the car on tree branches (now you get the title). The sensors are connected to the dome light in the car so that they can tell which direction has a stronger CO2 and then they know which way to turn.

Here’s what it looked like.

Here is one of my diagrams (this went through quite a few iterations).

Here is one of my earlier diagrams—it was slightly more realistic using some MOSFETs for amplification and everything.

In the end, the CO2 level in the air from a vehicle is quite small. I think it would be seriously implausible to use two detectors to determine the direction to the robot. So, I will go ahead and give this is “real score” of maybe 1.5 out of 10. Here are some other hack scores—in case you are curious.

Stopping Brutus with a Sat Dish

I forgot to mention that the robot-car’s name is Brutus. MacGyver plans to stop Brutus with a radio frequency car killer. These things are real.

The basic idea is to beam high power radio waves at a vehicle to fry the electronics. In this case they say it just drowns out the network so that Brutus can’t communicate and it stops.

MacGyver builds this RF gun using a transmitter on the truck and a satellite TV dish. In order to get the power high enough, he uses the car battery.

OK, now for a homework question. Assuming the van they are in has a normal style car battery, how much current does the RF gun use so that it drains the battery in 5 minutes? Some estimations might be required.

Hotwire a car

I’m pretty sure I talked about this in a previous post. Modern cars are really tough to hotwire—good thing they found an older camero.


Final hack of the show. MacGyver uses his phone and a belt to pull and bend the vents on Brutus. He needs a space big enough to fit a USB stick through. It’s funny because MacGyver kills his own phone and not Jack’s.

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