• 2015 Robot Rodeo: Bomb squads from across the country saddled up their robots and duked it out at the ninth annual Western National Robot Rodeo at Sandia National Laboratories. Photo by Randy Montoya
     2015 Robot Rodeo: Bomb squads from across the country saddled up their robots and duked it out at the ninth annual Western National Robot Rodeo at Sandia National Laboratories. Photo by Randy Montoya
  • Sandia National Laboratories’ Gemini-Scout Mine Rescue Robot is equipped to handle any number of obstacles, including rubble piles and flooded rooms, to help rescuers reach trapped miners safely and efficiently. Photo by Randy Montoya
     Sandia National Laboratories’ Gemini-Scout Mine Rescue Robot is equipped to handle any number of obstacles, including rubble piles and flooded rooms, to help rescuers reach trapped miners safely and efficiently. Photo by Randy Montoya

Annual Robot Rodeo Challenges Bomb Squads

May 18, 2017
By Breann Pendleton

This isn’t their first rodeo.

Sandia National Laboratories hosts its 11th annual Western National Robot Rodeo next week, an event where police and military bomb squads can practice using robots to defuse dangerous situations. 

Ten teams from around New Mexico will compete in 10 events testing robots’ speed and security in simulated yet realistic scenarios, according to a laboratory news release. While the top three teams will receive trophies, participants mainly are vying for bragging rights, says Jake Deuel, Sandia’s robotics manager and rodeo coordinator.

Deuel says the main goal is to make the scenarios challenging so the bomb squads get the most out of the event and to prevent them going over the edge during a real-life call.

Sandia works with Los Alamos National Laboratory to put on the annual competition. Instructors from the FBI’s Hazardous Devices School also will run several of the training sessions and events at this year’s competition, taking place May 23.

“We keep coming back to the Robot Rodeo because it’s a training opportunity that really pushes our skill set with the robots,” says Sgt. Carlos Gallegos, commander of the Albuquerque Police Department’s bomb squad, whose team has attended the rodeo every year and won twice. “We appreciate Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories for taking the time to put on such a beneficial week for the local bomb squads.” 

Past scenarios include removing a mock bomb from an airplane or train car, removing stimulated fuel rods from a damaged nuclear power reactor, and locating and removing radiation sources from a mock village. Sandia added a new and interesting scenario to this year’s rodeo line up that involves locating a mock “radioactive” liquid leak and eliminating it, perhaps with a robotic bucket brigade, the release states.  

Teams participating this year hail from the U.S. Army, Air Force, and from several police departments. 

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