• A bomb disposal robot removes a suspicious package during a training operation at Sandia National Laboratories. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
     A bomb disposal robot removes a suspicious package during a training operation at Sandia National Laboratories. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
  • A robot performs a rescue operation on a dummy victim during a training exercise at a previous Robot Rodeo. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
     A robot performs a rescue operation on a dummy victim during a training exercise at a previous Robot Rodeo. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

Bomb Squads Model Robots at Annual Rodeo

May 14, 2015
By Sandra Jontz
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UAVs make a debut at the five-day Western National competition.


Giddy up! Military and civilian bomb squad operators are taking to a capabilities exercise robot rodeo to showcase proficiencies and uses of robotics in the field. For the first time in nearly a decade, organizers included unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the competition.

Sandia National Laboratories introduced UAVs during the ninth annual Western National Robot Rodeo, which ends this week, as an inaugurating “game changer” concept for military and first responders who are learning how to better use robots as buffers between themselves and the dangers their face. “It’s exciting to be able to show off a new technology to this group,” Sandia’s David Novick, a pilot and robotics engineer, said in a statement. “This technology is a game changer. It’s a stable, highly intelligent vehicle with controls similar to an airplane. Emergency responders can use these small, portable vehicles to get a bird’s eye view of a situation to help them get out of a tight spot.”

The Western National Robot Rodeo and Capability Exercise at Sandia National Laboratories, in partnership with the Los Alamos National Labs, is a five-day event that offers a challenging platform for civilian and military bomb squad teams to practice defusing dangerous situations with robots’ help.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

Rodeo scenarios change every year and attempt to mirror scenarios squad members encounter on the job. “The only time we get to simulate the level of complexity that we face in real life is at the Robot Rodeo,” Albuquerque, New Mexico, Police Sgt. Carlos Gallegos said. “Robots are saving officers’ lives and have been critical to our SWAT teams.”

Competition events include managing suicide bombers, operating in smoke-filled buildings, responding to roadside bombs, rescuing first responders and removing bombs from inside an aircraft.

This year’s teams include the Albuquerque Police Department, Kirtland Air Force Base Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, Holloman Air Force Base Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, Los Alamos, New Mexico, Police Department, Doña Ana County, New Mexico, Sheriff’s Office, Riverside County, California, Sheriff’s Office, two U.S. Army teams from Fort Carson, Colorado, and a team from the British army.

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