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Airport police adding to robot squad

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

The Atlanta Police Department precinct at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport will welcome an addition to its bomb-disposal robot family by the end of the year, according to Police Sgt. Robert Bailey.

"The bomb robots are crucial in the fight against terrorism as we serve to protect all passengers, employees and other visitors that utilize Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport," Bailey wrote in an e-mailed statement. "The bomb robots are tools that a bomb technician can utilize in their duties to save lives and prevent property damage while operating them [at] a safe distance, without putting themselves at any unnecessary risk."

According to Bailey, there are currently four bomb-disposal robots used for distinct purposes at the world's busiest airport. They are operated by the Atlanta Police Bomb Squad, he said.

The addition of the fifth robot will assist the squad in reaching and searching for suspicious objects in tight, confined spaces, particularly inside an aircraft, he explained.

"This technology is amazing on this new robot," said Bailey.

Mike Graff, a spokesperson for the robot's manufacturer, API Technologies Corp., said the compact robot is a teleMAX Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robot and weighs 175 pounds.

"It is mass-transit capable, making it ideal for use in aircraft, trains, buses, subways and public spaces," said Graff.

Graff said the robot has the ability to easily climb stairs and inclines at an angle of 45 degrees, as well as the ability to roll down the center of passenger aisles on a jet.

"This one has a preset button for stair climbing ... these [current] robots you actually have to manipulate yourself, to climb [stairs]," Bailey said.

Bailey said the new robot can also reach up to eight feet in height with its arm, and is able to reach underneath a seat and grab an item, inside an aircraft.

The new robot also has articulators, which can be used independently, to raise the robot if it encounters unleveled terrain.

The robots currently used by the airport precinct don't have independent articulators, Bailey said. They have two articulators in the front and two more in the back, he said. "It's big because of stair climbing or unbalanced ground ... You can just raise one side of the [new] robot, not the whole back side," he explained.

"The technology is just vast improvement over all of them," added Bailey.

Bailey said the police department was able to see a teleMAX Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robot demonstration at a hazardous device school, at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala.

Bomb technicians attend a hazardous device school to obtain certification, he added.

According to Bailey, the police department became interested in the robot and spoke with API Technologies, Corp. The department was able to test the robot for a week on site, in April 2010, at Hartsfield-Jackson, he added.

He said that after testing was complete, the police department put in a request for funds to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

Graff, the API Technologies spokesperson, said the robot's total sale, valued at approximately $300,000, was completed on July 21, and it was the first teleMAX robot the company has sold in North America.

"The company anticipates a great market opportunity as other cities within North America learn about the robot's capabilities and to discover what it can offer security forces charged with protecting a large population," said Steve Pudles, CEO of API Technologies Corp., in a prepared statement. "We foresee considerable potential for sales as this technology, which has already been deployed in dozens of other countries, becomes more widely appreciated and put into service throughout the continent."

According to Bailey, three out of the four bomb-disposal robots at the world's busiest airport are manufactured by Remotec, including the ANDROS Mini II, the ANDROS F6-A and the ANDROS F5.

The ANDROS Mini II, nicknamed "The Mini," was obtained by the department in 2005 and weighs about 228 pounds, he said.

Bailey said the robot has a weapons platform primarily used for disrupting packages.

"The Mini is very unique," said Bailey.

The ANDROS F6-A, said Bailey, was obtained in 1996 and is the most common bomb-disposal robot in the U.S. The F6-A robot weighs about 600 pounds and also has a weapons platform, he added.

The ANDROS F6-A is used the most by the police department, the sergeant explained.

"If it can't pick up a package, it will drag the package," he said.

The ANDROS F5, nicknamed "The Beast," weighs approximately 800 pounds and is primarily used for outside scenarios, he said.

The Negotiator, manufactured by iRobot, is about 25 pounds and is the smallest robot the airport precinct operates, said Bailey. Because it travels very close to the ground, the police department can use the robot to search below a vehicle, he said.