June 18, 2018
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Police robot may lose cable, convert to wireless controls

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Wielding assault weapons and protective gear, a Bangor police officer clears the way as the department's robot approaches after providing surveillance in a hallway during a media demonstration in February 2007.
By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor Police Department wants its robot to go wireless.

The robot, which the department purchased in 2003 using part of a $470,000 U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant, is still in “fantastic condition,” police Lt. Mark Hathaway told members of Bangor City Council’s Finance Committee during a meeting Monday night.

The police department’s bomb squad and Special Response Team share use of the robot, and also offer it to other area departments as part of mutual aid agreements. The Bangor Police Department is the only police agency north of Augusta that has a robot.

The 9-year-old robot is operated through a fiber-optic cable. Using a cable control system can cause a few snags, as the cable runs a risk of getting tangled in vegetation or caught under car tires, in door jambs or around corners.

“There are a lot of things we’d like to be able to do with the robot that we just can’t do because of the cabling,” Hathaway said. “The cable limits the operator from a host of potential operational goals, including entering and exiting a target area from different locations or from circling a house, building or automobile.”

Hathaway attended Monday’s meeting to ask the Finance Committee to back the department’s request to skip the bidding process and use $43,000 of a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice grant to get rid of the cable and install a new control system. That grant, which was originally allocated toward mobile data terminals in the city, wasn’t entirely spent and expires in 2013, according to Hathaway.

The committee supported Hathaway’s request, which will now go before the full City Council.

If the department gets the go-ahead, it will purchase the wireless system from the robot’s manufacturer, Tennessee-based Northrop Grumman Remotec.

Most recently, the robot was used during a Special Response Team operation on Nov. 13 after a reported domestic dispute involving a handgun on Bolling Drive. Police later found William R. Spiess, 53, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in an upstairs bedroom.

On Oct. 26, the robot was sent into a Dirigo Drive home after another man, Jared Ross, 29, allegedly brandished a shotgun in front of his girlfriend, her mother and an 11-month-old child. The robot went inside after attempts to make contact with the man were unsuccessful, and cleared the first floor before the Special Response Team entered the building and found Ross on the second floor, where he was arrested without incident.

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