5 ways robots help render safe bombs
A regional bomb squad supervisor provides several examples of how a robot can be used to help bomb technicians render-safe IEDs from a safe distance
This article, originally published on January 12, 2016, has been updated with current information.
The following is paid content sponsored by Robotex.
By PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff and Gerry Diehl
Tactical robots are a ubiquitous technology used by law enforcement, including SWAT and bomb squads tasked with handling live explosives.
In fact, tactical robots are a standard tool for SWAT and bomb squads as modern-day robots are versatile enough to identify the problem and then be used to provide a solution — while keeping bomb technicians a safe distance from perilous explosive devices, like pipe bombs and IEDs.
Here are five ways SWAT and EOD technicians are using robots today to help dispose of explosives:
One of the first ways a tactical robot can be used for bomb disposal is through reconnaissance work, when a robot is sent to a specific area to investigate and gather information.
An audio and video payload embedded into a tactical robot helps gather intelligence. Real-time audio and video is provided to the EOD technician, letting him or her closely inspect an explosive device from a distance, said Chris Rogers, who is the supervisor of a public safety bomb squad in Southern Arizona, which uses a Robotex Avatar tactical robot in SWAT and EOD operations.
Rogers said their tactical robot helps his bomb squad determine what the threat is — for example, whether it is a bomb. The robot arm mechanism also can lift or move materials that might be blocking the view of the explosive device so the technician can get a better view of the situation.
“The obvious way to find out is to get as close to the device as possible,” he said. “That's not always easy to do if the device is located in a vehicle, a tight space or covered by something.”
Another key feature that makes tactical robots ideal for bomb disposal is their ability to be loaded with different types of payloads to help diagnose the components of a bomb.
Different types of payloads are used to give bomb squads more information about the device they are dealing with, Rogers said. This includes mounting X-ray kits onto a tactical robot in order to determine the components of a bomb.
“That X-ray can provide the bomb squad with a clear picture of the circuitry inside a device,” he said. “This helps an EOD technician determine the type of explosive they are dealing with and devise a better strategy on how to approach it.”
Other tools used for bomb diagnosis include Raman spectrometers.
A robot also can deploy as a percussion actuated non-electric disrupter, which enables the bomb technician to disrupt suspected improvised explosive devices.
Rogers said the robot can be used to transport the disrupter tool to the explosive device using a manipulator arm. This lets the technician aim and fire the disrupter from a safe distance.
He said robots also can disrupt devices by using the arm extension and a cutting tool to snip wires or to unscrew a pipe bomb to pour water on the contents or empty the canister.
“The key is you are able to tear the components of the device apart so it can't be activated, but at the same time leaving some evidence intact," Rogers said.
Sometimes during bomb disposal, disruption is not enough and the bomb must be destroyed.
Tactical robots are essential when the incident escalates to destruction of an explosive device, as it is the most life-threatening operation for EOD technicians.
Now, instead of risking a human life, a tactical robot can deliver a countercharge to the bomb. An EOD technician loads the countercharge onto the robot and uses its audio and video feedback to steer it to an explosive device.
Then, the robot can plant the countercharge and back away before the explosion is initiated.
"In this instance, robots can be used to plant countercharges when the best course of action is to just destroy the device,” he said. “This saves lives.”
A tactical robot’s audio and video capabilities and its ability to navigate a variety of terrain and obstacles make it an ideal tool for bomb removal.
The robot can be directed to lift the device and carry it away from a home, vehicle or busy traffic area to a more remote site for inspection or disposal.
"We see a lot of homemade bombs in this area, things that are found in dwellings, and instead of a bomb technician going in and having to carry it out, you use the robot," Rogers said.
Tactical robots are essential, life-safety tools many SWAT and bomb squads use, whether to inspect a suspected explosive device or to remove it completely. Even better, the job can get done without putting EOD technicians in harm’s way.
For more information about using robots for bomb disposal, contact Robotex.