The Austin Police Department hopes to benefit from war-time research. Now that conflicts are winding down, companies that developed high tech equipment for the military are re-tooling them for police.
Before the unmanned aerial vehicles or UAV's Austin Police Department wants to add these to the force, ground robots. They're smaller and more mobile than the ones APD has now.
The bomb squad uses these in some suspicious package incidents or SWAT call outs. But police say there are limitations to the big robots.
"They're just not capable of going into a house, banking corners, going up stairs," said Pat Cochran.
Some of the models are small enough to even fit in a patrol car so patrol officers can use them. They are the first responders at the scene. Extras can be added like speakers so officers can talk to a barricaded person. Sensors can be added to detect chemicals at a chemical spill. Police say the smaller ground robots used with the unmanned aerial vehicles in the air, is ideal. For example, deploying both for a SWAT call out is safer for officers and a time saver.
"Search houses quicker, safer and we can pin point using the infrared features in these robots and UAV to pin point suspects inside residences which in essence makes it safer for us as we're deploying and making our plan to take that person into custody," said APD Sgt. Frank Dixon.
Texas A&M's Center for Robot Assisted Search and Rescue or CRASAR was the site for the demonstration. The center is known for its crisis response. It helped after the 9/11 attacks, deploying robots to help find survivors. Now it's helping law enforcement.
"The taxpayers have funded a lot of research into the development of these for wartime use, Afghanistan, Iraq and now without spending more money, we're getting to use the research. We get to use some of this stuff for domestic operations," said Cochran.
"As things get faster and quicker, it makes things safer for you and makes things safer for the police officers who are trying to do their jobs to keep you safe," said Dixon.
Austin police are also looking into robotic boats. Although this project is further down the line, they would help with evidence recovery by detecting metal and sonar would help with finding bodies.
But it's the ground robots that will be coming to the department sooner.
Vendors say each are under $10,000. Austin Police are looking at grants to pay for as many as possible. APD officers will get to test out a few in a couple of months.