PORTLAND, Maine — When a 51-year-old woman fired a gun and then barricaded herself in her home on Mere Point Road in October of 2014, tactical teams from the Brunswick Police Department and Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office negotiated with her for hours before finally using tear gas to draw her out.
Then about 1½ years later, when the sheriff’s office arrived at another standoff June 12, 2016, not far up Mere Point Road from the October incident, they brought a new tool with them. This time, the department’s robot — a small, remote-controlled box on rubber treads — rolled into the house where 35-year-old Andrew Akladiss allegedly threatened to kill himself if police entered the home.
After Akladiss allegedly refused multiple requests to leave the home over several hours, the tactical team called on Dep. Kim Emery, who deployed the robot, known as “Rosie” — affectionately named after the robot maid on the 1960s television series, “The Jetsons.”
Guided by Emery, Rosie carried a cellphone to Akladiss, and through various surveillance capabilities — Sheriff Kevin Joyce last week declined to be more specific — Rosie provided officials with enough information, including that Akladiss was in his bedroom, to allow them to more safely break the window to the room, forcing him out the door.
It was the first time Joyce had seen Rosie in action, he said recently during a demonstration outside the sheriff’s office.
“It’s really a neat little rig,” he said of the robot, which the department purchased for approximately $20,000 with a grant of from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Manufactured by iRobot, which provides robots to the U.S. military, Rosie is remotely controlled and can roll at 3.4 mph, turn corners, rotate 360 degrees, withstand drops of about 15 feet and, with the use of two side “flippers,” climb stairs, Emery said.
To obtain the same information they received from Rosie on June 12, police would have had to press their noses against the windows of Akladiss’ home, Joyce said. Instead of tactical team members delivering a “throw phone” and later throwing gas canisters into the house, Rosie delivered a cellphone, collected some information, and no tear gas was necessary.
“If we go charging in, who knows what’s going to happen?” Joyce said. “It’s all about trying to mitigate and resolve the situation.”
“It’s another tool to protect our officers and everybody that we serve,” he continued. “It provides use the ability for intelligence-gathering and to deliver phones, where before this we would have put people in harm’s way.”
Since the 1990s, various law enforcement agencies around the country have deployed robots instead of humans to dangerous situations. The range in size from the 1.2-pound Throwbot used by tactical teams in places such as Hennepin County, Minnesota, to the Los Angeles Police Department’s 39,000-pound BatCat, which a remote-control operator can use to lift vehicles and batter buildings.
Joyce said he envisions fire departments using Rosie for hazardous-materials situations and is sure the department will find other situations she can help make more safe.
Another, larger robot also was acquired by the sheriff’s office for $8,000 from government surplus — “it’s the kind NASA is putting on the moon,” Emery said — and await software that will allow it to operate.
But Rosie already served has them and the Brunswick police well, Brunswick police Cmdr. Marc Hagan said.
“To have the opportunity to avoid a deadly force situation by making initial contact using a robot was greatly appreciated,” he said. “There is no doubt that this piece of equipment can and will save lives in the future.”