The Recon Scout: "Know before you go"

     Officers receive a call of shots fired, barricaded subject, unknown weapons, unknown bystanders/ hostages, and race to the scene. When they arrive, they find the department already has a guy working on the inside. This officer took little regard for his own well-being and dropped through an opening in a window.

     Responding officers learn he has just maneuvered into the home's living room. An entry team member reports "a white male with what appears to be a 9mm handgun is in the east bedroom." He states the inside man has positioned himself under a bed near the suspect.

     As responding officers anxiously await this officer's return, supervisors question whether they should promote him or place him on immediate psychological review. On the other hand, sending in just one officer quite possibly saved the lives of the whole team.

     This scenario is fictitious. There really isn't an officer inside the building, just a small robotic device that gathers intelligence information for officers a safe distance away.

     The device is the Recon Scout, a miniature mobile robot that provides real-time video reconnaissance of hostile or dangerous environments, from ReconRobotics Inc. It saves lives by gathering mission-critical information prior to sending personnel into treacherous, unpredictable and unsafe environments. Constructed of aircraft aluminum and titanium, the energy drink can-sized device can be thrown through a window, tossed over a wall or dropped from a low-flying unmanned aerial vehicle. Once deployed, its movement is controlled from a distance using a handheld operator control unit (OCU), which immediately begins receiving live video on a 3.5-inch screen.

Love at first sight

     I was first introduced to the Recon Scout in June 2007 at Enforcement Expo in Ohio. David Gustafson, ReconRobotics director of commercial sales, and his associate, Aimee Barmore, were conducting "live" demonstrations of the mobile robot at the show.

     Some of the device's features that caught my attention were its small size (it is 7.5 inches long, 1.5 inches in diameter, and weighs just 1.2 pounds) and rugged features (it offers an extreme level of throw and drop shock resistance). Knowing how hard cops can be on their equipment, I initially walked past the booth, believing that even if it did stand up to the test, my department could not afford it.

     As I watched from an adjacent booth, I observed the folks from ReconRobotics allowing individuals to kick and hurl the device. After observing this for several minutes, curiosity got the better of me and I couldn't make my way to the booth fast enough.

     As with most officers I know, I am somewhat skeptical when it comes to things like Las Vegas magic acts, index cards stating I won a million dollars, spam e-mail connecting me with $100,000,000 in an Aruban bank account and new police technologies guaranteed to save lives. Initially I thought the demonstration unit, being tossed around like little sister's rag doll, was probably a beefed up, genetically enhanced version of the actual retail unit.

     Gustafson and Barmore noted the Recon Scout was designed to survive a vertical throw of up to 120 feet and a vertical drop of up to 30 feet. With this type of engineering, the Scout can be thrown through a window or down several flights of stairs and be ready to move and transmit video at a moment's notice. Furthermore, this little fellow can be tossed over a trailer court fence, chucked into brick walls or out of a car window to secure a location and transmit video of its surroundings.

     The robot is small enough to be carried in a pocket or attached to a vest, and its narrow diameter makes it easy to carry or throw. The device has a matte black finish that makes it almost stealth like. It also moves in a clandestine fashion at a maximum decibel level of just 20 decibels.

A reconnaissance test

     After the show, I found myself reminiscing on the hundreds of ways I could have used the Recon Scout over my nearly 15-year law enforcement career, and wished some of my colleagues could have witnessed the usefulness of this new tool. I requested a demo for a local agency's Special Emergency Response Team (SERT). Within a few weeks, the company sent a robot and the agency put the unit to the test.

     For the test, team members met to train in an abandoned house. I explained we would be using a surveillance robot during the scenario portions of the training. I quickly got the feeling everyone present would rather test drive an electric chair than take a hard honest look at the device from the Edina, Minnesota-based company — even if it had the potential to save lives.

     First, the team stacked up on the front door as perimeter officers and rear guards stood wait. Within 30 seconds of making entry, the team secured one of the role players but missed several key areas as well as an additional threat from a make-shift meth lab.

     The group debriefed as I assembled the Recon Scout for deployment, which takes approximately 35 seconds from start to finish.

     Following the brief, the team captain asked where I wanted them to position themselves. I advised them to stay where they were as I tossed the device through a small opening in the front screen door. I methodically began to clear each room as the entire team watched the robot's movement on the black-and-white screen. The on-screen images were incredibly clear, although at times, the unit was affected by electronic interference and signal disruption as the robot edged its way deeper into the residence. However, the disruption was minimal and did not hamper the operation or the ability to observe the device's surroundings as I moved the Recon Scout throughout the house with the thumb-operated joystick on the OCU.

     Crossing threshold after threshold and maneuvering through wood and debris, the robot helped us identify one of the role players, who had positioned himself on a recliner in the home's living room.

     This Missouri SERT team found the Recon Scout to be a versatile and innovative search tool. ReconRobotics advertises that the Scout transmits video more than 250 feet outdoors and 100 feet indoors (through windows, doors and walls, etc.) but the team found its operating distance to be much higher. However, the more walls, barriers or distance between the operator the unit, the greater the chance of losing the robot's signal.

     Another area found to be superior is the advertised drop shock resistance, or how far you can drop or throw the device before breaking it. During my testing, the Recon Scout was tossed from a moving vehicle and thrown off a three-story house.

     With the ability to be deployed with minimal manpower, the device is a "must have" for any agency wanting to "know before you go." With the threat of terrorism, narcotics raids, hostage rescues, barricaded suspects and explosives always looming on the horizon, the Recon Scout can minimize an agency's risk.

Turning darkness into an advantage

     ReconRobotics has introduced the Recon Scout IR reconnaissance robot — a throwable, mobile robot that is able to see in complete darkness. The Recon Scout IR allows police and military officials to gain inside knowledge about dark, dangerous and hostile environments before sending in personnel. Simply throw the device through a doorway or window, or over a wall, then use the handheld Operator Control Unit (OCU) to control the robot's movement. The device's new infrared optical systems automatically turn on whenever ambient light is low, and immediately begin transmitting clear real-time video to the OCU video screen or a nearby command post.

     More than 100 police, security and military agencies worldwide already use the Recon Scout for tactical reconnaissance. The new Recon Scout IR will be particularly useful in high-risk operations involving barricaded suspects, hostage rescue situations, room-clearing missions and narcotics raids. The video it transmits can be used to determine suspect locations and room layouts; identify weapons suspects may have; and gain knowledge about the number, condition and locations of hostages. Armed with this information, tactical teams can plan with greater confidence and mitigate risks to its personnel and to hostages.

     The Recon Scout IR also can be used in dignitary protection activities to inspect ventilation systems, confined spaces and vehicle undercarriages.

Performance

Indoor range: 100 ft./30m
Outdoor range: 300 ft./91m
Speed: 1fps/0.3mps
Drop resistance: 30 ft/9.1m
Throw resistance: 120ft/31.4m

Image Sensor

Black and white
IR illumination: 25ft
Field of view: 60 degrees
Framerate: 30 fps

Mechanical Specifications

Length: 7.375 in/187mm
Shell Diameter: 1.5in/38mm
Wheel Diameter: 3in/76mm
Weight: 1.2lb/544g

Recon Scout Distributors

     U.S. Tactical Supply Inc.

GSA# GS-07F-0259N
www.ustacticalsupply.com
sales@ustacticalsupply.com

     P&R Technologies Inc.

www.prtech-thermalimaging.com
george@prtech-pdx.com

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