The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office recently upgraded its resources with the addition of a Dragon Runner bomb robot.
The robot, pack and remote included, weighs just 75 pounds, much smaller than its 500-pound predecessor, allowing it to get into harder-to-reach places as it keeps officers out of harm’s way while the bomb squad is deployed.
Purchased for $110,397, the robot — designed by the Marine Corps for use in Afghanistan and Iraq — was fully funded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The appropriation of the grant money was approved by the county commissioners July 30 and the robot arrived in Castle Rock in early August.
So far, officers have been thrilled at its capabilities.
“It’s lightweight and portable and hooks right on the backpack,” said Lt. Tommy Barrella. “We needed a small platform robot that we could deploy quickly. We can carry it with us into a school or neighborhood. You can’t do that with the big robot.”
The big robot, which the department is keeping to conduct heavier, more time-consuming work, is used mainly for bomb disposal, Barrella said. However, it is clumsy and can’t climb steep terrain or stairs, and if something breaks on it, it takes at least a half a day just to take the robot apart.
The new robot requires just five minutes to take apart, but perhaps more importantly in a SWAT situation, can approach a house within minutes while the officers keep their distance and can be stationed in their command van.
“It goes over everything that is put in its way,” Barrella said. “It’s a good set of eyes for us, and instead of climbing a hill with the van and entering plain sight with the big robot, this one can climb the hill itself or in a backpack with an officer.”
With the ability to operate remotely from up to a mile away, the robot transmits images back to its operators on a display screen located on the remote and can detect motion from up to 30 feet away. It also has the ability to detect and disrupt suspicious devices or disable them with wire cutters.
“The ultimate (purpose) is taking the human element out of a dangerous situation,” Barrella said, adding that he expects the county to use it on 50 to 75 calls a year.
Because the county obtained the robot through a federal grant, it must be shared with neighboring law eonforcement agencies, said Sheriff David A. Weaver.
The jurisdictions that will benefit directly from Douglas County’s new Dragon Runner include Elbert and Lincoln counties, while it will serve as a backup for Arapahoe and Jefferson counties as well as Colorado Springs if they need a robot on call.