Robot Rodeo highlights operator skills

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By Carol A. Clark

A surprisingly agile silver robot made its way across a wooden walkway, picked up a bright yellow Frisbee, rolled backward and hung the Frisbee high on a nail embedded in a wooden stake. The machine then moved on to a nearby table, where it picked up a mousetrap, crossed a pile of car tires and, without tripping it, placed the mousetrap down on another table.

This was one of 10 innovative courses timed and critiqued by judges during the two-and-a-half-day 2008 Robot Rodeo, which wrapped up today at noon at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“They have to have the controls memorized because they’re hidden from view during this exercise,” said Janet Romero of LANL’s Emergency Management Division.

The second annual competition brought out the best in robot operators from the Los Alamos Police Department, LANL, Santa Fe Police and New Mexico State Police.

“Winners receive trophies and bragging rights,” said rodeo coordinator Christopher Ory, a Hazardous Devices team member at LANL. “Los Alamos won last year.”

During Tuesday’s event at TA-49, Ory said the four teams in the rodeo were neck-in-neck in earned points and he could not predict the outcome, which will be determined later today.

Ory came up with the idea that he said is a take off on the laboratory’s annual HazMat challenge.

The exercises are named Targets Up, Stairway to Heaven and Rescue Me, in which the robot drags firefighter mannequins away from a railway tanker after dousing the blaze with a firehose.

Other names include The Maze, Moving Day and Bagram Air Field – named by Ory, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq to honor the troops still over there, he said.

Lost and Found, Are You Kidding Me, Not Again and Doctor Doctor round out the 10 courses.

“We designed it so each event is very different and helps to improve the operator’s various skills,” Ory said.

Lead Forestry Technician Chris Romo and his team from Bandelier Fire Management observed the firefighter rescue, which was operated by New Mexico State Police.

“Right now, this exercise is in the development stages,” Romo said. “I’m sure it will help preserve lives in the future.”