The more advanced models are coming at a very busy time for the unit. Only the trained eye can tell just how many parts have been replaced on one of two mini two robots. The motors, tracks, speaker, extenders, light, and camera just to name a few.
All have been repaired-some more than once-others several times- on the eight-year-old robotic vehicle. Senior Police Officer, Chris Rybarski, is on the bomb squad.
"It's getting in its age where we're starting to see more repairs frequent, things are breaking down on it."
The motor has gone out a couple of times and the extenders have broken which means the claw couldn't work. That’s when members have to put on the bomb suits and go in.
"Obviously it’s safer to send this in than to put somebody in a suit."
APD's bomb squad will be adding two new robots to its current fleet, giving the unit a total of six. The new robots called the HD 2 are the smaller kind and are faster than the old minis. They go 5.2 miles an hour instead of 3.
They're stronger, they can lift more, the arm can perform more complex movements, and they can climb stairs.
Sgt. Mike Bush says "The HD2 has the capability in its own foot print of driving into a compact space and turning its arm to the side, reaching off to the side, and picking up something that weighs more than the mini can pick up. The mini robot has to turn its whole self to get to it, it's very awkward, it’s very difficult."
This older robot won't be put out of commission. It will serve as a back up.
"If we had a situation where we had to go down where we had a high probability of sacrificing a robot, because of the high price tag, we're going to send in one of the older ones down in case it gets blown up or it goes into a bad environment."
The bomb squad is the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit. That means members don't just respond to bomb calls, but swat call outs, suspicious packages, and white powder calls.
They are on call 24/7 and this year has proven to be busier than normal. They've already had 82 calls for service this year. 23 of those in just the month of May.
Compare that to 159 for a year's time, from Oct 1st 2008 to Sept 31st 2009. The two robots are $125,000 each, paid for with a federal grant. That means they have to respond to our ten county region. They include Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop, Llano, Burnet, Blanco, Lee, Fayette, and Caldwell.
Right now, the unit has two trucks, each with a large and small robot in case there are two emergencies at the same time.
Rybarski says "half the team can be on a call somewhere in Austin and the other half can be in Llano County."
Just like other electronics, the computer inside these robots becomes obsolete over time. The newer robots with up-to-date technology will help the team respond to emergencies with better efficiency and effectiveness.
The new robots are being custom made and are expected by the end of the year.