Bomb-defusing robot would get big upgrade with grant

Monday, December 6, 2010 | 4:41 p.m. CST; updated 8:42 p.m. CST, Monday, December 6, 2010

COLUMBIA — In some ways the ad seems to be for a cell phone or a digital camera.

It boasts of an "intuitive, menu-based interface." Users are encouraged to "save up to 10 of their own presets." All in all, the ad promises a "quick" and "distraction-free" user experience.


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But this isn't an advertisement for the newest Sony Cybershot. It's for an upgrade to a Northrop Grumman F6A bomb-defusing robot. And thanks to the Missouri Department of Homeland Security, a robot equipped with these new features might soon be available for bomb-related emergencies in and around Columbia.

The Mid-Missouri Bomb Squad comprises members of the Columbia Police and Fire departments and the MU Police Department. The city originally purchased the F6A robot in 2003. Since then, it has received only minor maintenance or upgrades.

"It usually gets deployed on every call we get," Columbia Fire Battalion Chief James Weaver said. He said the squad responds to several bomb threats a year.

Over the summer the Columbia Office of Emergency Management applied for a grant to retool the robot, and on Nov. 15 the Missouri Department of Homeland Security  approved a $53,578 award to upgrade it to an F6+.

If the Columbia City Council accepts the grant, the robot will be shipped off to a service center in Tennessee for the extensive upgrades. There, the robot will be torn down, modified, tested and rebuilt. Sensors will be added to the arm, and the software will be updated to provide enhanced information about the robot's position and orientation. The electronics housing and casting will be replaced.

"We're bringing it closer to what the new robots come equipped with," Weaver said. He noted that the purchase of an entirely new robot would be nearly $200,000.

"It's an exceptional tool," Weaver said. "It allows us to put a piece of machinery in harm's way instead of a person."

A bill accepting the grant is scheduled for introduction and first reading at tonight's council meeting, which means the council would be scheduled for a final vote on the matter Dec. 20.

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Louis Schneebaum December 6, 2010 | 5:25 p.m.

Amazing, so far they've used it to diffuse a tense soda bottle in the yard situation in an affluent neighborhood. Now we can respond to soda bottles with gruesome efficiency!

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Chris Delbert December 6, 2010 | 6:32 p.m.

Don't upgrade it so that it runs on meat. That would be bad.

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