PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – From a distance away and with two robots in place, what could have been a bomb was disassembled with just the push of a button.
That happened during a weekly training exercise for the Allegheny County Bomb Squad, who let us see what their robots are capable of.
“This is the weapons camera,” explains Officer Richard Painter, “on the side two disrupters. They’re similar to shotguns.”
The county has several robots, responding to 13 counties as part of a homeland security program. Each robot sent into a situation that could be potentially dangerous.
“Naturally, if there’s a bomb or explosion involved, it’s there and it’s designed to hurt of kill someone or maim property,” said Painter. “If we can avoid going down in person, we will.”
Painter has been with the bomb squad since 2004. He’s watched the technology evolve and every robot develop new and improved abilities.
“Before the robots, someone always had to do a manual approach,” he said. “Some things we’ll do is remotely use ropes and pulley systems. It’s a lot more time consuming, a lot more cumbersome.”
Now, manipulating the robots has become easier.
They can climb stairs, grab and move objects and render something safe. It’s a term the squad uses when they essentially take the explosive safely apart.
“The whole object of the bomb is to cause injury or property damage,” said Painter. “If we just go down and blow it up, well the bad guy wins.”
Each robot is designed for specific purposes, but everyone is armed with multiple cameras, allowing the squad to see what situation they’re walking into.
“We need that capability so we can see any minute aspects,” said Painter. “If there is a trip wire, you’re talking a piece of fishing line. We need to be able to see from a long distance with a robot.”
That technology is what they used in June on Campbells Run Road, near the busy Parkway West. Police pulled a man over, suspected of robbing a bank and claiming to have a bomb. The robots were able to rifle through the car and determine it was not a bomb – but actually an adult sex toy.
“The robots worked out great for us,” said Painter. “We did not have to go at all and approach that until after we already had the device out of the vehicle. We interrogated it using an X-ray system and found out it was most likely not an explosive.”
Out of roughly 200 calls per year, there are plenty of false alarms.
“Our theory is, ‘I would rather go to 100 false alarms then them think it’s false and someone’s injured or killed,’” Painter said.
But there are also many situations where the risk of injury or explosion is high.
Painter says they’ve found everything from hand grenades and aerial bombs to homemade bombs.
The Bomb Squad trains weekly, but knows the future will only have more advances in technology.