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Looking to the future of police robotics

The use of robotics in police work requires an integration of policy, infrastructure and common sense

I recently spoke with Tom Phelps, the director of Robotic Products, North America for iRobot, about the company’s iRobot products use in the upcoming 2016 Olympics in Rio. iRobot products will serve several roles at the Olympics, including inspection, support of enforcement and EOD.

The use of robotics in police work requires an integration of policy, infrastructure, and common sense. For example, in military applications, the squad with the robot goes about their business until the robot is deployed. After, the new role is supporting the operator by providing security, helping to process raw information and aid in navigation.

Phelps agencies should consolidate their robot training in the same manner as integrated canine training. A rural agency that experiences remote drug labs could own a compact unit with cameras and sensors like the iRobot 110 First Look, which can be thrown through a window in a critical incident.

This way, smaller budgets can have smaller products aimed at area specific needs, Phelps said. Also, during a critical incident, integration is less ad hoc if agencies train together

Phelps told me that robotics are headed toward greater autonomy. For example, it is conceivable that a robot can be navigated toward a click on a map, negotiating its own obstacles using its own sensors. The military has reached out further by looking at how insects sense and negotiate their environment and applying this to robotics, he said.

Here are four robots that can help officers in the field.

iRobot 510 Packbot
The 510 Packbot is the modular, expandable unit that has been used extensively in Iraq, Afghanistan and nuclear facilities.

Throwbot XT
Throwbot XT from Recon Robotics weighs 1.2 pounds; it is a throwable micro robot that can deliver audio and video, including IR to the remote operator.

DJI Phantom 2 Vision
The Phantom 2 Vision from DJI is a drone and is ideal for a crime scene flyover, using its 300m Wi-Fi capabilities.

SuperDroid Tactical Robots
SuperDroid Tactical Robots has a handful of models that have basic platforms with custom configurations.

The RoboteX AVATAR III is a rugged, tactical robot that enhances the capabilities of law enforcement and first-responders by allowing them to safely and quickly inspect dangerous situations.

Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer and retired military small arms trainer. He teaches criminal justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California. He has a BS in Criminal Justice and an MS in Online Teaching and Learning. Lindsey has taught shooting techniques for over a decade. His articles on firearms tactics have appeared in print for over a decade. Lindsey enjoys competing in shooting sports, running, and cycling events.