Bomb squads test metallic minions at Robot Rodeo

Bomb-disposal robots like this one practiced with their human masters at Sandia National Laboratories' Robot Rodeo this week. | Courtesy of Sandia National Labs
Sandia National Laboratories' weeklong Western National Robot Rodeo and Capability Exercise, which brings together civilian and military bomb squads to test their robotic tools in simulations of bomb-threat situations, ended on Friday.
The annual event lets the teams test their robotic partners' performance in low-risk competitive simulations simulating possible real-life threats.

“Our underlying goal is that we want to make good robot operators into great robot operators,” Jake Deuel, a Robot Rodeo coordinator and Sandia manager, said. “We design problems and scenarios that take our state and local bomb squad teams way outside their comfort zones, outside the known techniques and procedures to see how they can handle it."

Robotics are important tools for hazardous-device teams, as they provide a safe, remote way of managing a threat, witih the robots acting as a buffer between the threat and responders.

For some, the simulation provides crucial experience for response teams to learn and evaluate the robots' functions and various scenarios so they can better serve in real-life tsituations.

“The only time we get to simulate the level of complexity that we face in real life is at the Robot Rodeo,” Albuquerque Police Sgt. Carlos Gallegos said. “Robots are saving officers’ lives and have been critical to our SWAT teams.”

Sandia introduced a new piece of technology for this year's competition: unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). David Novick, a pilot and robotics engineer, said UAVs will likely be an effective tool because they can provide an aerial view and give emergency-response personnel the ability to gain a more complete perspective on a given threat.

The teams that competed in this year's rodeo included several law enforcement and hazardous-device disposal teams, two U.S. Army teams and a representative team from the British army.

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