Out of all the absurd stuff that '60's grammar school students were taught to expect in the future, the robot in every home is the most likely to come true. Today, there are robots that will vacuum and mop your floors. More importantly, there are robots that can do dangerous jobs that people used to have to do. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the PackBot has become a vital tool for IED clearance. Here in the homeland, similar robots are on duty with bomb squads nationwide.
Yes, the age of the tactical robot has truly arrived. So it's little wonder that robots were some of the stars of the show floor at the recent TREXPO West trade show in Los Angeles.
That's not to say that robots were the only thing to see at the show. But there certainly were a lot of them. And they were on the prowl. They rolled down the aisles, scooting past combat simulators, assault vehicles, WMD gear, and other innovative SWAT equipment. They were even carrying some of the other products during demonstrations.
The following is a quick glimpse at some of the more interesting stuff exhibited at the show.
Tactical Systems: Lector Tactical Robot
Designed by a former SWAT officer, Tactical Systems' Lector HD tracked tactical robot is a remote-controlled video and weapons platform that can be deployed against a barricaded suspect to end a standoff. The approximately 50-pound robot can be fitted with two less-lethal options: a modified M-26 Taser and a canister of OC. An operator can send the robot on reconnaissance missions at ranges up to 1,200 feet. Once it's in place, the robot can scope out the scene with a low-light infrared video camera and even attack with weapons activated remotely by its operator. You can imagine the look on the bad guy's face when this 26-inch-long machine rolls up to him and gives him a snoot of pepper spray or fires two Taser probes into his chest.
Tactical Systems also makes a smaller version of the Lector that is designed primarily for surveillance. The Lector split-chassis tactical robot is 12 inches long and weighs just eight pounds.
Click here to visit Tactical Sytems online.
FreeLinc: FreeMotion 200 Radio
The FreeLinc FreeMotion 200 is a wireless two-way radio system that uses near-field magnetic induction for secure, short-range communications. Near-field magnetic induction is not an RF signal like Bluetooth and that means it is much more robust for tactical operations. Bluetooth can drop signals because of frequency contention. Also, near-field magnetic induction signals have a limited and set range, making it difficult for anyone to eavesdrop on communications. The FreeMotion 200 consists of a small belt-mounted adapter that's about the size of a pager and a combined earpiece and voice mic.
Click here to visit FreeLinc online.
Systema Professional: Training Weapon
For some time now, a number of agencies have been exploring the efficacy of soft air firearm replicas for force-on-force training. But there are some serious concerns that arise when using even the best soft air models for law enforcement training.
For example, soft air weapons have huge ammunition reservoirs that can encourage officers to adopt spray-and-pray tactics. Also, soft air guns are, well...toys. Their red or orange barrel tips mark them as such. So officers may treat them as toys during training.
Systema's soft air training weapon is different. The company's M-4/M-16 replica rifles are essentially real rifles in every aspect except one: They can't fire live ammo. Other than that, they are built tough, have rails for all of your accessories, and they feature magazines that only fit 30 rounds. The Systema rifle uses a battery-operated internal compressor that can provide enough power to propel standard 6mm soft-air ammo at up to 500 feet per second.
Click here to visit Systema Professional online.
Dynamic Animation: Systems V.I.C.E. Simulator
When I first saw the V.I.C.E. simulator at February's SHOT show, I was convinced that it was a product suitable only for the video arcade. But after a few minutes of watching a SWAT team put the system through its paces at TREXPO West, I changed my mind. It's an excellent training tool for team operations.
V.I.C.E. (Virtual Interactive Combat Environment) is a team combat simulator. Up to four officers can operate and coordinate their actions in V.I.C.E.'s beautifully rendered virtual world. Each officer has a separate view of the environment and can move, maneuver, and change his or her point of view using two joysticks mounted on one of the Armalite M4 soft air rifles that come with the system.
Instructors can set up the software so that the rifles must be reloaded after 30 rounds. They can also add stress to the scenario by causing an operator's rifle to jam.
A complete V.I.C.E. system includes four operator bays with screens and an instructor station that allows the instructor to monitor the teams' progress and tactics. The instructor can also flat ruin the students' day by taking control of one of the bad guys, even after he or she is down.
V.I.C.E. is not inexpensive, nor does it have a small footprint, but it's not outside of the budgets of some agencies, and it can be a great training tool if you don't treat it as just a video game.
Click here to visit Dynamic Animation online.
Mesa Robotics: Tactical Robots
At TREXPO West, Mesa Robotics showed its line of Marv and Matilda II tactical tracked robots.
The Marv is a 22-pound, approximately 20-inch-long robot designed for such tasks as reconnaissance, surveillance, vehicle inspection, IED interdiction, and search and rescue. Operated by remote control, the Marv has a range of 300 meters and it can climb stairs. The Marv can carry equipment and can mount a color video camera with IR capability.
The Matilda II is the Marv's larger cousin. Weighing 61 pounds and measuring 30 inches long, the Matilda II can carry a variety of payloads up to 125 pounds and can be fitted with trailers for even heavier equipment.
Click here to visit Mesa Robotics online.
Breaching Technologies: Training Doors and Windows
Every couple of hours or so, there would be a loud banging noise on the show floor at TREXPO West. It wasn't a firearm or a noise distraction device; it was the sound of a breaching ram battering in one of Breaching Technologies' training doors.
BTI's Ram Breaching Door is a metal door and frame that will fit into any standard door cutout. Using a set of plastic pegs that stand in for locks and bolts, trainers can set up the system to simulate wood, metal, and even fortified doors.
There are three types of pegs, clear, blue, and red. The red pegs are the hardest to break and, if several of them are set in the door, it will be extremely difficult to open. This gives instructors a tool for teaching officers to adapt their tactics to the situation and not to continue hammering on a door that won't give.
In addition to the Ram Breaching Door, BTI also showed its Shotgun Breaching Door, its Breaching Window, its Pry Breaching Door, and its Explosive Breaching Door. The Pry Breaching Door and the Explosive Breaching Door use the same plastic pin system as the Ram Breaching Door.
Click here to visit Breaching Technologies online.
Northern Lights Tactical: Multi-Purpose Robot
It's been borne out time and time again, often with tragic results, that the element lacking most in police firearms training is how to shoot a moving target. Northern Lights Tactical's Tactical Robotic All-Purpose Chassis System (TRACS) was designed as a robotic target that can be used to teach officers how to hit a moving target.
The TRACS system allows a trainer to mount a paper target or even a target dummy on a fast-moving robotic chassis that permits erratic and even aggressive maneuvers. The robot is armor plated so that stray rounds won't destroy it, but the chassis itself-though armor plated-should not be used as a target.
In addition to its applications for firearm training, the TRACS can be tasked as a tactical robot by simply adding accessories. Available accessories include camera systems, a payload delivery system, and paintball guns for training sessions and for marking suspects.
Click here to visit Northern Lights Tactical online.
Defense Control USA: Armored Assault Vehicle
Vehicles and vehicle ramps are always some of the most innovative products on any TREXPO show floor. The vehicles at TREXPO West 2006 were no exception. Of particular interest was the Height Adjustable Rescue Assault System (HARAS) from Defense Control USA.
The HARAS system is designed to be used on Defense Control's light armored assault vehicle, the Xtricator. Featuring Defense Control's LightXArmor that can withstand AK-47 rounds, the Xtricator is a modified Chevy Suburban that can achieve speeds of up to 100 mph while carrying an assault team.
The HARAS system is a metal ramp that attaches to the top of the vehicle. Once the team reaches its objective, the HARAS can be deployed immediately, permitting officers to storm into the upper floor of a building or over an obstacle such as a fence. The HARAS system can reach the windows of a third-floor building, the cargo or passenger doors of an aircraft, or the roof of a bus or train. The platform can hold as many as 12 officers while the vehicle is moving, so it can be used for rapid assault or egress.
Click here to visit Defense Control USA online.