Staff Photo: John Bohn The Gwinnett Police Department Hazardous Devices Unit demonstrates two new robots that they have acquired through a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The new robots augment two older units and enable the GPD to respond simultaneously to two separate incidents.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett police used federal grant money recently to purchase two nimbler, more cutting-edge bomb robots that leaders say will enhance officer and public safety.
The robots -- which cost $206,000 total -- up the department's fleet of bomb robots to four, enough to allow police to simultaneously respond to two separate incidents.
The bells and whistles on the new Caliber T3 and T5 robots are many.
In additional to a standard suite of cameras, microphones and manipulator arms (capable of pulling a downed officer from a house), the robots can detect chemical and radiological hazards. They can shimmy up stairs in ways their two predecessors, both about a decade old, can only dream of. And they're capable of playing MP3s with recorded voices of family members or negotiators to help defuse hairy situations behind closed doors.
Alternately, the robot sound systems may pump lighthearted music into testy hostage situations.
"You never know," said Lt. Bill Walsh, a bomb technician, "it might put (a gunman) in a better mood."
Funding for the robots came from a Department of Homeland Security grant by way of state officials. Another $100,000 grant paid for chemical identification equipment that can test potentially hazardous materials -- from the dreaded "unknown white powder" and suspicious packages to colorless, odorless liquids -- in about 30 seconds, a process that would have taken days in years past, Walsh said.
The robots allow police to use that equipment remotely. And in much more confined spaces than the existing, larger robots could squeeze into.
"This helps keep citizens and officers out of harm's way," said Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Edwin Ritter.
Fire department crews on Thursday morning employed similar equipment when a lady reported a suspicious white substance on her door, Walsh said.
A simple test revealed the substance was flour. The incident, in years past, would have caused home evacuations and shut down the street, Walsh said.