A robot in every squad car
Partnering with a computer geek friend, Minnesota officer Shawn Mahaney has worked to develop a robot that would be affordable to every agency
You roll up on a welfare check and find a door that’s obviously been kicked in. You call out and don’t get any answer. Do you enter, send in a K-9 or wait it out?
The story of Tactical R/C began when Minnesota officer Shawn Mahaney faced this all-too-common law enforcement scenario.
Officer Mahaney told Police1, “A K-9 was requested but with officers unable to contact and confirm the whereabouts of the tenant, the K-9 was not able to deploy out of concern an innocent person was still inside the apartment and at risk of being bitten inadvertently.” Mahaney’s agency had a robot, but it was back at the station and would take too long to get it into place.
After this incident, Mahaney got permission from his CO to evaluate putting robots in every patrol vehicle. Unfortunately, the “robot back at the station” cost $15,000 and there was no way they could afford to put one in every car – so he decided it was time to make his own.
Partnering with a computer geek friend of his, they worked to develop a robot that would be affordable to every agency and the 4Sight robot was born. There are a substantial number of differences from existing commercial robots, which keep the cost down to a very affordable $2,500 and allow it to run within many agencies’ existing infrastructure.
The 4Sight is stripped to the essentials of a vehicle body, with four huge wheels, lights, battery, a mounting clip and a remote control. Missing are arms, remote-control claws and cameras.
Like a drone, the handheld remote holds a phone that is used to see what the robot is seeing. But how does it see without an onboard camera?
Since most agencies already pay for BWC and cell phones, the 4Sight’s mounting clip can be used to hold a BWC borrowed from an officer on scene or dedicated to the robot. Or you can stick a cellphone into the clip and use Facetime, Zoom or other software to stream the video back to the controlling officer, other officers on scene or command staff.
Because of the 4Sight’s huge wheels, it can be thrown through a door or over a wall. It doesn't matter how it lands because the system is smart enough that left and right on the remote control always are left and right whether the robot lands on its front or back. Built-in, super-bright LEDs light the way. And unlike a drone, you don’t need to worry about training or certification. If you can drive a car, you can drive the 4Sight.
Each 11-pound, 14” long, 11” wide, 7” tall robot comes with two 3-cell lithium-ion batteries, onboard and external battery chargers and a remote. Both chargers are designed to be left plugged into the wall or a 12v vehicle outlet without damage. Except for a few of the electronics, most of the robot is manufactured and assembled in the USA, which is important for many grant requirements.
Officer Mahaney told me about a 7-person department that only has one officer on duty after midnight. His new partner is the 4Sight, which he can deploy immediately to go into buildings and backyards, or peek around the corner rather than waiting for backup to get out of bed and get dressed.
Our opening story has a happy ending. The officers entered the apartment and found an individual holding the bathroom door closed. When they got to the suspect, he was surrounded by chemicals and in a state of severe mental distress.
But not all scenarios end this way, and many locales have mandated that mental health professionals or social workers be the first point of contact for welfare checks and DV calls. One way to help ensure their safety is to equip them with a robot (maybe with their photo taped to the top) to help defuse the situation and stream the video to remote officers or command staff who can help the local civilian workers make more informed decisions on whether to proceed into the premises. And if things do go south, you already have eyes on the scene and a responding officer can take control of the robot when they arrive.
So to summarize: low-cost robot, uses existing video devices and infrastructure, no training, charge from a car 12v outlet. Yes, I think that about sums it up. Orders are running about 6-8 weeks behind, so now is the time to get in line for yours.
For more information, visit www.tactical-rc.com/.