Sandia LabNews

Sandia hosts annual Robot Rodeo for bomb squads

Bomb squad competitors

Bomb squad competitors from the Los Alamos Police Department prepare a robot before a scenario with an active shooter during sandia’s annual Robot Rodeo.

Bomb squads from across the country saddled up their robots and duked it out at the ninth annual Western National Robot Rodeo and Capability Exercise May 11-15 at Sandia. The five-day event offered a challenging platform for civilian and military bomb squad teams to practice defusing dangerous situations with robots’ help.

The rodeo was designed with elaborate props to model the atmosphere of real-life emergencies in a low-risk, competitive environment. Robots are life-saving tools for the nation’s hazardous device teams, providing a buffer between danger and first responders.

“Our underlying goal is that we want to make good robot operators into great robot operators,” says Jake Deuel (6532), a Robot Rodeo coordinator and Sandia manager. “We design problems and scenarios that take our state and local bomb squad teams way outside their comfort zones, outside the known techniques and procedures to see how they can handle it.”

UAVs introduced at Robot Rodeo

This year, Sandia introduced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into the competition. Sandia’s David Novick (6533), a pilot and robotics engineer, flew the UAVs at the event.

“It’s exciting to be able to show off a new technology to this group,” David says. “This technology is a game changer. It’s a stable, highly intelligent vehicle with controls similar to an airplane. Emergency responders can use these small, portable vehicles to get a bird’s eye view of a situation to help them get out of a tight spot.”

Scenarios at the rodeo change every year and grow in difficulty, which brings competitors back. The event prepares officers for the types of situations they may face on the job.

“The only time we get to simulate the level of complexity that we face in real life is at the Robot Rodeo,” says Albuquerque Police Sgt. Carlos Gallegos. “Robots are saving officers’ lives and have been critical to our SWAT teams.” Challenges have included managing suicide bombers, operating in darkened buildings, responding to roadside bombs, navigating obstacle courses, and rescuing first responders.

Sandia partners with Los Alamos National Laboratory on the annual event, which allows teams to practice emergency scenarios where robots are life-saving tools.

The winning bomb squad team was Doña Ana County Sherriff’s Office. Participants included the Albuquerque Police Department, Kirtland Air Force Base Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, Holloman Air Force Base Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, Los Alamos Police Department, Riverside County Sheriff’s Office from California, two US Army teams from Fort Carson, Colorado, and a team from the British army.