Lincoln's bomb squad on Thursday unpacked a new robot it can use to dismantle a new breed of larger, heavier bombs without putting someone in harm's way.
The LandShark weighs 813 pounds, reaches 11 1/2 feet in the air and can lift 155 pounds, which is heftier, higher and heavier than the robot they currently use to neutralize bombs, said Brian Hart, president and CEO of Tyngsboro, Mass.-based Black-I Robotics.
The Department of Defense paid the robot's $190,000 price tag so Lincoln fire inspectors could ground test and help fine-tune Black-I's new product.
Being stronger and bulkier allows the LandShark to go toe-to-toe with the newest handiwork of bomb-makers, who are coupling small bombs with propane tanks or five-gallon gas cans to get big explosions on the cheap.
"They want to get more bang for their buck to make a bigger fireball," said Bill Moody, Lincoln's chief fire inspector.
That was the idea behind the propane tanks and gasoline cans used two years ago by the would-be bomber who tried to blow up an SUV in Times Square. The failed attempt was a wake-up call, Hart said, and an inspiration for the LandShark.
Deploying a LandShark in Lincoln will give Black-I and the Department of Defense a broader array of feedback on how bomb squads use it. Bomb techs in East Coast cities are worried about terrorists and bombs, while those in the Midwest are more concerned with neutralizing a meth lab filled with explosive chemicals or poisonous gas.
"That's not something you're going to do in downtown Boston or downtown New York City," said Lincoln fire inspector Donald Gross. "That's something you're only going to see in the Midwest."
It's not only what the LandShark can dismantle, but where it can do the dismantling that makes the robot so special, Hart said.
Its state-of-the-art arm, which is broken up by seven joints as opposed to the three on the squad's current robot, gives the LandShark greater dexterity. Combine more maneuverability with software developed by NASA, and you have a machine that can reach up and into a dumpster, stretch into the bed of a tractor-trailer and open car doors.
With its multiple joints moving simultaneously and even automatically, the more sophisticated arm can glide into a position in seconds that would take an inspector five minutes to reach with the current robot, Gross said.
"For us, it makes life simple," he added.
The robot will have uses beyond public safety, Hart said. Equip the LandShark with pesticide sprayers and a different set of sensors and you can send it into an orchard. The robot will be able to show users exactly which trees are struggling and apply fewer pesticides overall without exposing someone who otherwise would have to spray them.
Said Hart: "It's pretty neat what the future's coming to."