Tactical Technology in Motion
ReconRobotics Tactical Micro-Throwbot
By: Derek Zobel
In 2007, ReconRobotics created a new tool for law enforcement personnel: the tactical micro-robot. Starting with the Recon Scout® Throwbot and evolving into the Throwbot® XT, the 1.2-pound robots are used by more than 700 SWAT and counter-terrorism teams, worldwide. They have provided valuable reconnaissance during thousands of operations and kept operators out of harm’s way by offering real-time intelligence and heightened situational awareness, and also reducing operational costs and liabilities such as from the use of noxious gas.
Gallatin County, Mont. Sheriff
Gallatin County, Mont. has a population of 90,000 and includes Montana State University and the cities of Belgrade, Bozeman, and Three Forks. Amos Ridenour, Task Force Detective for the county and Special Response Team (SRT) Leader for the joint city/county team, has been in law enforcement for 10 years and with the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office for eight years. He has been on the SRT team for the past five years. The team is composed of 20 part-time operators and typically responds to calls involving barricaded subjects and confined-space searches.
Gallatin County purchased a Recon Scout XT in February of 2012. The SRT was impressed with the XT’s small size and throwability. “We were surprised that the salespeople encouraged us to throw it,” Ridenour said. “It was very durable.” Ridenour wanted to replace the team’s bulky, treaded robot. “Our old robot was always breaking down and weighed 35-40 pounds. We were looking for something lightweight that wasn’t a hassle to get out of the truck. We liked that the XT could be carried in a small pack and quickly deployed.”
Ridenour and his team found it easy to operate the XT. “In addition to our regular training, we do a yearly technology update for our entire team. Each operator has six hours with the equipment. The old robot was so complicated that we just trained two operators to control it. The XT is simple enough that every single one of our operators can use it.”
An Armed, Barricaded Subject
The team soon got an opportunity to use the XT. A woman called the police and said that she had gone to her estranged husband’s house and he had lost control. He gave her the dog, kicked them both out of the house, and told her he was going to get a gun and end it. The two were going through a divorce, and he had made threats in the past.
“She told us that he had firearms inside, including a safe full of guns,” Ridenour stated. Two patrol officers were the first on the scene, followed by Ridenour and three other SRT operators. Negotiators attempted several times to reach the subject, but were unable to get a response. When they attempted to call his phone, officers heard it ringing through the front doorway. No one knew if the subject was alive, armed, or had hostages. Ridenour thought this would be a perfect situation to use the XT.
“The neighbors reported that they may have heard a gunshot, but they weren’t sure,” Ridenour recalled. “We decided to use the XT to search the house for the subject and assess the situation.” The front door had been left unlocked when the subject slammed it after kicking out his wife. Ridenour approached the door with a shield team, opened it, and threw the robot inside. He then controlled the robot as it transmitted video to his handheld Operator Control Unit.
“We used the robot to clear the structure one room at a time,” Ridenour said. “We found the subject. He had shot himself and still had the weapon in his hand. We cleared the rest of the house for any possible hostages or victims, and then maneuvered the XT back to the subject. I handed off the control unit to another operator who used the robot to watch the subject as I led the entry team inside.”
The subject had already passed away, but the XT provided information to Ridenour that enabled the team to resolve the barricaded subject situation faster than usual, saving operational costs and man-hours. It also greatly reduced the risk to Ridenour and his team. “The robot takes the pressure off of operators,” he said. “It helps take the guesswork out of any operation.”
Ridenour believes the quick-deploying XT has a use beyond SRT teams. “Patrol officers were the first to arrive at the scene,” he said. “They could have deployed the robot even earlier and resolved the situation faster. The robot is such a valuable tool, I want to be sure that both SRT and patrol have access to it.”
Just the Beginning
In July 2012, ReconRobotics introduced the Throwbot XT (TXT). In addition to the real-time video, the TXT also picks up audio and transmits it back to the OCU. Like its predecessor, the TXT has proved invaluable to SWAT teams, military units, and emergency responders around the world.
Derek Zobel is a marketing communications specialist with ReconRobotics and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.