Everything about the Sheriff's Robot Team is cutting edge. More formally named the Remotely Operated Vehicle Team (ROVT), this group responds from a command post to deploy robotic technologies to assist law enforcement. Even the composition of our team is innovative - melding jail deputies and patrol deputies.
Negotiations Team (TNT) - think SWAT - purchased a Mini Andros II by Remotec in 2006. It was a "generation one" - bulky, cumbersome, and
tethered. The control box was big and used toggle switches and twist knobs to operate. It was not user-friendly, nor durable. TNT used it a couple of times, and each time, something managed to break. The robot's early life was uneventful, so we backed up and changed direction.
Rather than trying to get TNT experts to learn robotics, we solicited agency-wide for people interested in applying for police robotics as a collateral duty (in addition to their full-time assignment). The hiring lieutenant noted that every person selected was a video-gamer. It makes sense because gamers understand that robots operate in a 3-D world on a flat video screen.
In 2010, the Sheriff's team wanted a small, quick, and agile camera on wheels, but there weren't many on the market. So, we built one, using a remote controlled (RC) rock crawler truck, off-the-shelf wireless router, and a couple of IP cameras. Our prototype proved that a small, quick, wireless robot would be an asset, so we were pretty excited when we found grant funding to buy the Avatar I by Robotex. It was small, wireless, rugged, water-resistant, and had two cameras including a 360 degree pan tilt zoom, all controlled by a small handheld RC. This model could be used out on patrol and for TNT events, so we deployed it with a robot team deputy to perform routine patrol searches.
In 2012, we asked, "Can a robot work with a police K9?" We started slow by just driving the robot near the dogs, letting them sniff and study the robots. Next, we had the dogs sit while we drove the robot around. Once the dogs were comfortable, we designed drills where the K9 would search for a hidden person. We let the robots open doors and watched the dogs search via the robot monitor. It was fascinating to watch the dogs interact with the robot.
Even in a forward-thinking agency, implementing technology is a journey. Just when we think we hit a brick wall, we respond just like a robot - we back up a little, adjust direction, and move forward.
We are happy to answer questions and we are available for public presentations. For more information about the Washington County Sheriff's Remotely Operated Vehicle Team, please email Corporal Chris Plewik.