June 15, 2008

Robotic Bomb Unit Getting Upgrade

By Bill McKelway, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.

Jun. 15--The shift to a tech-savvy, multitasking business climate -- the ruin of graying workplace warhorses in every cubicle -- is about to cast another victim onto the junk pile of history.

Baking in the noonday sun last week, MURV 100 looked a thing of pity.

"We're not sure who did that," said Henrico County police officer Bill Leyda, looking at a strip of tape affixed to the veteran robot's 40-pound chassis. "MURV THE ELDERLY ROBOT," the mini-banner read.

The discreet black letters screamed "PINK SLIP."

In Henrico County and Richmond, police are licking their chops over the pending arrival of a new generation of multifunctional, fast-moving, fearless, digitally equipped robots. There'll be one for each jurisdiction. Price: $165,000 each, paid for with grant money. MURV cost $25,000, also from grant money.

Specializing in ordnance disposal -- blowing up stuff -- the new robots will help save lives and broaden non-human means of thwarting evil.

"The day of the ordnance guy in a bomb-proof suit disarming an explosive device is fast coming to an end," said Leyda, of Henrico's Emergency Ordnance Disposal unit. "We feel like we are going from a tin can to a tank."

The shift was approved last week by county supervisors. The new ANDROS F6A should be humming by Christmastime.

Leyda said the shift is necessary to keep the bomb unit up to FBI standards. MURV, a functional, economical answer to local law enforcement's hurried response to the threat of terrorism, appeared in 2001.

Its seven-year history has not been marked by heroics. The 10-wheeled, single-grip machine was video-equipped, could be stopped by a loose pavement brick, and couldn't be operated beyond the sight of a controller.

"If MURV delivered pizza, it would arrive cold," said Leyda. Andros can do nearly 30 mph on flat asphalt.

The polished aluminum, 400-pound behemoth can fire shotgun rounds, serve as a two-way communication device with hostage-takers, spear through walls and disrupt explosive devices with jets of water.

"And its gripper can turn 180 degrees," Leyda said. It can elevate itself off the ground, extend a probe with sighting devices and cameras some six feet high, and provide color surveillance.

ANDROS can drag up to 900 pounds along the ground.

MURV could barely lift a briefcase full of plastic explosives.

"We will probably be giving MURV to the fire department," said Leyda. Contact Bill McKelway at (804) 649-6601 or [email protected]


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