A new nimble, black, tracked tactical robot for Lincoln's bomb squad won't move faster than 5 mph, but its operators believe it could help the squad or a SWAT team defuse tense situations faster.
The ICOR Technology Mini-Caliber bot doesn't have a nickname yet, but its mission is clear.
"This guy is to go see what's going on," said Bill Moody, who heads the bomb squad, which is part of the the city's Fire Prevention Bureau.
Between 2007 and 2017, the bomb squad averaged 30 calls a year.
Not every call was a specialized response where a robot would be used, Moody said, but he thinks this robot could be sent out quicker than others to safely differentiate harmless backpacks and suitcases left behind from more hazardous items.
The $52,400 robot was purchased via a federal grant for the bomb squad, which serves Lancaster County and 13 other counties in southeast Nebraska.
Moody said he wishes the city had the grant-funded robot, which arrived earlier this month, in 2016 when an escaped prisoner was holed up in the city's sewer and police wanted to get eyes on him, he said.
"We were too big," Moody said of the robots they had at the time. "We couldn't go."
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The Nebraska State Patrol was called eventually to respond, which delayed the inmate's apprehension.
The new robot weighs 64 pounds and could have made the sewer squeeze, Moody said. It can be shoulder-carried to a scene and can climb stairs on its own, Moody said. It's by far the smallest of the department's fleet, but it also lacks the ability to counteract any explosives by itself.
Reconnaissance and mobility are its strengths, Moody said.
This robot would be ideal for examining a suspicious item left in a crowded area, such as Pinnacle Bank Arena during a concert, bomb squad member Damon Robbins said.
Instead of evacuating a larger area to X-ray an unattended backpack in the arena, they could use the new robot to take it away to a safer, more isolated area where it could be checked out, he said.
At a SWAT call, police could use the robot's cameras to see what a barricaded suspect is doing, or talk with a suspect using its two-way radios, Moody said.
As members of the bomb squad trained with the new robot in a city storage garage near the airport Tuesday, the maneuvering wasn't always easy or fluid for the veteran bomb technicians.
The video screen on the remote control tablet lacks some depth of field.
"A young person who plays video games would be a very good robot driver," Moody said.