Robots demonstrate more versatility


The explosion of two pipe bombs in Seaside Park, New Jersey and in the upmarket neighborhood of Chelsea shook the nation last week. The outbreak of violence was followed by the discovery of five pipe bombs in a New Jersey Transit train station.

The police units, already sensitized to the danger of homemade explosive devices, had in their arsenal a robot called Remotec ANDROS F6A, equipped with the ability to disarm bombs. The robot was created by Northrop Grumman, the world’s fifth largest aerospace and technology defense contractor. The Dallas police officers employed it to carry a bomb that would kill a suspect who engaged in a gunfight.

The growing use of such robots by local law enforcement stems from a 2004 federal program called Law Enforcement 1033 Program that allows officials to distribute military supplies. Although the use of the robots limited the need for excessively armed local police in tense situations, it also evoked a strong pushback. President Barack Obama, for example, received recommendations on the program from the original group, which may have discouraged military officials from distributing nonessential equipment.

Nevertheless, the Department of Defense Surplus Equipment Disposal continues to uphold the program. The mission of the Department of Defense goes back to World War II when the federal government sought to reduce a massive inventory of military equipment by making the equipment available to civilians.

Bomb disposal is not new. After Pearl Harbor, the British were instrumental in setting up a formal ordnance unit. The army, navy and marines deployed explosive ordnance disposal units in European and Pacific territories with success.

The accelerated use and development of bomb disposal robots is a response to low-intensity warfare and waves of terrorist attacks, especially those that occurred after 9/11. Former President George Bush pumped billions of dollars into the war in Iraq in response to insurgents and Islamic terrorists. Allied troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria had to respond to improvised explosive devices that claimed the lives of many victims.

The rise of al-Qaida and the Islamic State has broadened the battlefield; the field of action has spread to many countries around the world, including Belgium, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The essence of such extenuating circumstances and the presence of terrorist attacks have spurred the development of a variety of robots. The aerospace industry, along with the DoD, has the monopoly on these combative robots.

Robot technology builds on existing technology. The British armed forces have developed the low-cost Panama Remotely Operated Vehicle, which modifies the Land Rover to suit a variety of dull, dirty and dangerous duties.

The Marine Corps developed Tactical Unmanned Ground Vehicles, capable of conducting operations in urban areas such as sewers, tunnels and caves. Lightweight versions of the vehicle can also deal with toxic chemicals or travel through water and climb stairs.

Through the transfer of technological ability, civilian companies have used existing technology to detect toxic gases, such as methane, in mines. It has also encouraged larger police departments to modify and innovate robots through technological transfer.Robot technology has found use in civil society. It can be implemented for home use, fun and games or as a labor-saving device.

Robots in the military and law enforcement are fundamentally used to save lives and keep the death rate low. They have become vigilant instruments for public safety in an age of rising tensions, social disaggregation and sharp political strife.

They are offensive weapons that can be used against domestic and foreign foes. Still, the public must be mindful that power-hungry politicians or the military could use them as a function of the tyranny against the majority.