Could robot be cops' best friend?
By Stephen Wall
Fighting sleep, you struggle to keep your car from sliding off the road.
You've been pulled over by a police officer for erratic driving.
You sit nervously waiting for the officer to approach.
But instead of a cop, you see a squat mechanism rolling toward your vehicle.
The remote-controlled device reaches your door and elevates to the height of your window.
The machine asks for your driver's license.
It extends a mechanical arm, takes your license and sends a video image of it back to the officer in the patrol car.
Meet Guardian 5, the brainchild of Redlands auto technician Fernando Ramirez.
"It's kind of like RoboCop," said Ramirez, a 44-year-old Highland resident, referring to the superhuman law-enforcement agent from the 1987 movie.
While the Guardian 5 doesn't deliver the deadpan one-liners of RoboCop - at least not yet - it serves a similar purpose in trying to protect officers in high-risk situations.
"It's not a system to eliminate the personal contact with the police," Ramirez said last week from his business, Excel Automotive, at 611 Tennessee St. "It's an additional tool to increase safety at a traffic stop that the police officer deems dangerous."
Ramirez came up with the idea for the robot last year after two incidents involving California Highway Patrol officers on local freeways.
In November 2005, a CHP officer was shot and wounded after he pulled over a speeding car on the 15 Freeway in Ontario.
Three months later, another officer was killed when a drunken driver slammed into his motorcycle and a pickup he had pulled over on the 15 in Hesperia.
"It got me thinking about the danger these guys face every time they pull someone over," Ramirez said. "My next-door neighbor is a CHP officer with four kids. I thought this could happen to him. They are trying to do their job and at the same time they have a family to come home to. I thought there should be a technology to lessen these incidents."
Between 1996 and 2005, there were 29 law-enforcement officers who were killed nationwide as they approached vehicles at traffic stops, according to the FBI.
Ramirez spent a year building a prototype of the robot. He has started marketing it to manufacturing companies that he hopes agree to produce and sell it to law-enforcement agencies.
The aluminum device, which fits in a black carrier in the front of a police vehicle, raises to a maximum height of 52 inches.
It has a two-way radio and a camera mounted on the top to peer inside windows in search of drugs or weapons.
After it's deployed, Ramirez said the robot can be brought back to its carrier in less than 30 seconds.
Ramirez said he does not know how much his invention would cost the customer.
He talked to manufacturers and showed pictures and videos at a robotics conference in Boston last month.
"It's an interesting concept," said Carey Butler, robotics program manager at Innovative Response Technology, a high-tech manufacturing firm in Fairmont, W.Va.
"I think it has a lot of potential," Butler said. "(But) the technology has a ways to go before it can be manufactured in a cost-effective and reliable way."
Based on his experience, Butler said the technology probably would cost between $30,000 and $50,000 per unit.
"The marketplace will want to see it much less expensive, probably in the $15,000 to $25,000 range," Butler said.
Ramirez demonstrated the robot to a group of Redlands police officers last week.
"It certainly is something we will be interested in looking into," said Redlands police spokesman Carl Baker. "It appears to have an application in real-world police work. It can be used in a lot of environments like felony car stops or searches of buildings or yards where an armed suspect might be present."
Copyright Copyright 2007 MediaNews Group, Inc.
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