Law enforcement's tactical robots are a long ways off of the quick-witted Number 5 from the "Short Circuit" movies or even the decisive walking tank of the "RoboCop" series. Today's law enforcement robots are more of a high tech tool rather than a self-sufficient thinking machine.
Outfitted with high tech sensors and devices to accomplish many tasks, robots are often called to search high risk areas and return essential data to first responders positioned a safe distance away.
Robotic FX manufactures the Negotiator Tactical Surveillance Robot to support a variety of first response personnel with their difficult and often dangerous jobs while maintaining a cost-effective price tag.
"We want to remove the stigma a lot of people have with robots: if it's complicated, it must be expensive," says Jameel Ahed, president of the Worth, Illinois-based company. Robotic FX alleviates this stigma by creating a product that is simple to use, reliable, cost effective and capable. The integration of Negotiator robot accessories and COTS (consumer off-the-shelf) sensors provide the Negotiator with a simple plug-and-play payload architecture meant to adapt to many tactical users including police, fire, hazmat, bomb/arson, military and other government agencies. This architecture is meant to reduce costs by allowing the purchase and integration of accessories as needs arise or as funding becomes available.
Robotic FX's mission statement exemplifies the Negotiator's design objective. "Our mission is to help first responders make informed decisions from a safe distance," notes Ahed.
The plug-and-play architecture connects virtually any peripheral device (sensors, detectors, external devices, etc.) through a port located in the robot's cargo area, then transmits that peripheral's data to the operator control unit (OCU).
The 8-pound, handheld OCU can be substituted for a wearable heads-up-display (HUD). With the HUD, the operator is able to view what the Negotiator's cameras see through a goggled view instead of on the OCU's screen.
The plug-and-play architecture of the Negotiator robot expands its capabilities, makes upgrading easier without the need for high tech procedures to incorporate new technology and, in effect, makes operation more accessible.
The base Negotiator Tactical Surveillance Robot weighs 25 to 27 pounds, measures 25 inches by 16 inches by 7.6 inches and runs on a track-and-wheel set. Included in the base package is a high-resolution color video camera for easy driving with the OCU, batteries and a trickle charging system. The standard Negotiator robot has an analog video transmission system, with a digital video system available as an upgrade.
Two-way digital audio communication provides for talk-and-listen communication from the robot's surrounding area to the operator manning the OCU.
An important part of a robot's work is communicating data back to the operator. This ranges from the visual feed from a camera and the warning from a gas/chemical detection sensor to the display of the robot's battery gauge. This data communication is called telemetry. "Telemetry is the wireless automatic measurement and transmission of data," explains Chris Rains, Robotic FX's production supervisor. A robot can reduce or eliminate the risk to personnel by carrying sensors normally used by first responders and hazmat teams into the situation, and then transmit that information back to the operator.
"First responders can use the Negotiator robot for many of the dangerous tasks they'd normally have to do themselves," adds Ahed. "Now it is not only a faster operation, but a safer operation as well."
The Negotiator's architecture was designed to allow for the integration of virtually any sensor needed for nearly any situation. "We built a robot that could be used everywhere," says Ahed.
"Our robot has tremendous potential for use in many departments," says Rains. "I am confident that we are capable of developing an easy-to-use, cost-effective solution for any challenge our customers present."
According to Officer Jim Walsh of the Illinois State Police Tactical Response Team, "We use the HUD display as well as the OCU and a five-gas monitor in our training scenarios."
Other examples of devices and sensors include: additional full-color, high-resolution, rear-mounted, pan-and-tilt, infrared or night vision cameras; a disruptor for bomb diffusion; less-lethal devices such as a pepper spray dispenser; radiation, blood, blister and nerve agent detectors; toxic industrial chemical and gas monitors; a portable in-vehicle control system; and a mobility upgrade which allows the Negotiator to perform tasks such as climbing stairs.
The Negotiator's mobility upgrade consists of two parallel track extensions mounted on either side of the robot, which can be rotated 360 degrees. This upgrade allows the robot to perform tasks such as self-righting, climbing stairs, etc.
As technology improves and new problems arise, the Negotiator was created to accommodate those future technological breakthroughs and solutions. The Negotiator's architecture provides simple upgradeability for the incorporation of tomorrow's video, data transmitters and sensors. "Our Negotiator robot was designed with 'open system' architecture, which allows for the integration of virtually any sensor, communications package, etc. present or future," adds Rains.
Another upgrade to the Negotiator is a six-axis robotic arm, which is mounted on top of the robot. The arm's intuitive control provides, with the addition of four high-resolution cameras, the ability to pick up items, open and unlock doors, assist in diffusing a bomb using various tactics, and more.
Inspired by the Da Vinci machine (a robotic system designed to enhance a surgeon's capability and ultimately perform surgery more safely), which utilizes the natural functions of the human hand, the arm's six-axis control plugs directly into the OCU. A simple camera-select button scrolls through the available camera views.
"The control mimics an arm," says Ahed. "When the controller turns his wrist, the arm turns the wrist. Likewise, when the controller opens his grip, the arm opens the grip." The six-axis arm further extends the Negotiator's capabilities by allowing it to perform tasks such as opening doors; lifting, carrying and delivering small objects (up to 10 pounds); explosive ordinance disposal; and detailed inspections with efficiency and precision, he explains.
The Negotiator's operation does not require weeks or days of training.
"We allow a different member on our team to control the robot at each training session," says Walsh. "It takes about 5 to 10 minutes to learn how to operate it."
The Negotiator robot's single joystick and push-button operation is another intuitive aspect of the package. The Negotiator's controlling joystick is directionally related to the direction of the robot. The robot's speed is directly proportional in that the throw of the joystick determines how fast or slow the robot will move.
In the high risk law enforcement environment where a callout may be a false alarm, involve a peaceful surrender or end deadly for the officer and/or suspect, utilizing a high tech robot such as the Negotiator as a tactical tool decreases the risk to personnel and shortens the operation — saving time, money and lives.