Meet the newest member of the bomb squadPhoto:3811190,left; |

Meet the newest member of the bomb squadPhoto:3811190,left;

by Kurt Hildebrand
Shannon Litz/Nevada Appeal News Service Jonathan Antti, age 31Ú2, watches as the bomb robot is driven out of a truck.

Nevada Appeal News Service

It isn’t easy navigating a robot using a video monitor and a joystick, much less picking up a 60-mm mortar shell and placing it back down … gently.

Without depth perception, every move requires a little more care, switch back and forth from one view to another until the shell is safely down, and it’s time to open the claws and back away.

Video game time pays off when people’s lives are at stake.

Members of the Tahoe Douglas Bomb Squad are practicing with their new Mini Andros robot, purchased with the help of a $79,366 grant from the federal Homeland Security act.

Bomb technicians drew stares from passing motorists as they put the robot through its paces behind the Emergency Dispatch Center on Esmeralda Avenue in Minden.

Tahoe Douglas Bomb Squad hazardous devices technician Jim Antti described the device: It weighs 220 pounds, and a single person should be able to put it to work; was built by Northrop Grumman and is similar to those used in Iraq; is controlled from a panel bristling with joy sticks and toggle switches; and operators get a robot’s eye view through three cameras. The main camera rotates 360 degrees and provides high-quality color video. A drive camera sits between the robots treads and allows the operator to see obstacles directly ahead of the device. A gun camera is mounted above the manipulator arm, allowing the operator to draw a bead on an object for grabbing or target the disrupter. It is basically a 12-gauge barrel that can fire anything from a water charge to an aluminum shell.

Antti said operating the manipulator, the robot’s claw arm, is the real trick.

“We were picking up a bottle to get the feel of working with the manipulator,” he said. “At training, we tried picking up eggs off the grass. Some survived, others were scrambled.”

The manipulator arm is the robot’s main equipment. It closes at up to 50 pounds per square inch. “Any tool it can hold, it can utilize to some degree,” Antti said. Hayes managed to unzip a backpack using the manipulator. Once it got a zipper tag in its mandibles, the claw was able to drag the zipper along.

However, Antti pointed out, bomb technicians never enter any package the way it is designed to be opened.

A recent incident involving a man who tried to rob a Carson City bank by claiming he had a bomb showed the usefulness of the robot.

The Washoe County robot, the Mini Andros’ big brother, was used to examine the suspected bomb.

Bomb technicians can communicate with someone using a speaker and microphone attached to the device. Technicians spoke with the robbery suspect using the robot.

It is difficult to damage the robot just by driving it, but getting the wire caught in the wheels is one way to pull the plug. While the company makes a robot with a wireless feature, Antti said it is expensive and unreliable. The 1,200-foot orange military-grade fiber optic cable plays out behind the robot, which has an automatic take-up reel to keep it from running over its cable. The 24-volt battery lasts for up to three hours of constant use.

The robot also comes with attachments for X-raying packages and opening car doors.