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Wrangling in the robots

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Six teams competed in 10 different events on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday

By Kirsten Laskey

The evidence of the robot’s work was scattered all over the table. Small, charred bits of batter splattered the table and griddle and on the opposite side of the room, a mechanical arm carefully picked up a new pancake to flip it.

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Robots taking on breakfast duty was just one of several activities featured in the Fourth Annual Robot Rodeo, which was hosted by Los Alamos National Laboratory this week.

Six teams included The Albuquerque Police Department, the Santa Fe Police Department, the New Mexico State Police, the Farmington Police Department, LANL and the New Jersey State Police competed in 10 different events. Other challenges included an obstacle course performed in the dark, using explosive tools and power tools.

The competition was held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at TA-49.

“The main purpose of the rodeo,” said Robert Clark, a LANL hazardous devices technician, “is we come up with scenarios that are a challenge to both robot and to the operator.”

He explained bomb technicians do standard things with the robot and the rodeo allows them to think about the robot and situations that they may not normally consider during regular trainings.

“We’re trying to take the operators of the robot to a higher level,” Clark said.

“The operation of a robot is a perishable skill.” If these skills are not consistently worked on, operators can lose their edge.  

Chris Ory, LANL hazardous team member, said the rodeo is a partnership between LANL, Sandia National Laboratories and the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators.

Besides an opportunity to refine skills, the rodeo is also a competition. The winning team receives a trophy and bragging rights.

While Ory said, “we’re all type A personalities” the competition is a heated one, the atmosphere is full of camaraderie.

He said it is fun to get together and rag with fellow teams, they do entrust one another with their lives.

However, Ory  mentioned the Albuquerque team won last year so everyone was gunning for them. Yet, the Albuquerque team still came victorious. They won the rodeo.

Agent Jose Salazar of the State Police Department said in their field, there are few opportunities for bomb squad teams to train and practice.

The rodeo, he said, “really challenges us and educates us on the capabilities of the robot.”