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07.05.2013

Next Gen Robots Aiding Law Enforcement Personnel

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Related topics: Government
The highly publicized capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect, was an incredible showcase of law enforcement skill and effectiveness. It was also a showcase for the usefulness of robotic technology in high tension and potentially dangerous circumstances.

In the hours that followed the release of their photographs, the Tsarnaev brothers were responsible for the murder of an MIT police officer, a carjacking, and a furious firefight with authorities (which left an officer critically wounded and Dzhokhar's brother dead). Law enforcement officials deemed the two brothers armed and extremely dangerous.

The day-long manhunt came to an end when police stormed a boat where Dzhokhar was hiding and took him into custody.

In volatile situations such as this, the highest priority of law enforcement officials is to ensure the safety of both citizens and officers. Authorities descending on the boat where Tsarnaev was holed up feared he may again resist arrest with firearms or worse by detonating explosives. In response, police used a bomb disposal robot to inspect the boat for threats and later an armored vehicle equipped with a robotic arm to remove the boat's covering and expose Tsarnaev. While no explosive devices were found at the scene, the situation shows how robotic technology can be used to keep officers safe.


On the opposite side of the United States, the Los Angeles Police Department use what's known as the BatCat (Bomb Assessment Tactical Counter Assault Tool), a large, remotely operated tele-handler, in similar situations. The BatCat is equipped with cameras and sensors to for navigation as well as a telescopic, claw-like implement that is capable of tearing down walls and lifting entire vehicles.

The BatCat has been instrumental in several situation, including a bomb threat last December on an empty police cruiser parked in an area to deter crime. The threat turned out to be a hoax, but had there been any explosives, LAPD robotics would have been in position to safely extract and diffuse the device.

As robotics technology becomes increasingly powerful and affordable, more of these units will find their way into the hands of law enforcement officials, better equipping them to safely handle dangerous situations. However, this technology is still far from perfect. The research and development team at ASI is in the process of tackling the difficult questions of handling explosive in such as buildings where no GPS or radio signals can reach (known as GPS-denied environments), as well as going up stairs, avoiding obstacles, and opening doors. These next generation robots will be areas better equipped to handle dangerous situations like hazardous material spills, nuclear environments, disaster recovery, and indoor reconnaissance with little to no operator intervention.