New Police robots: Big win for officer safety

Roseburg Police Officers have two new crime-fighting allies that just might save someone’s life: a pair of tactical robots.

The Roseburg Police Department bought two Transcend Robotics Vantage robots in May with $39,995 in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. Equipped with cameras, the Vantage and Mini-Vantage are operated remotely and can be sent into dangerous buildings and other areas ahead of officers to search for suspects and possible weapons -- reducing risks to officers’ lives.

“Any time I can put a robot in, instead of a body – big win,” Roseburg Police Chief Gary Klopfenstein told the Roseburg City Council in May.

Roseburg Police bought the robots for the emergency response team, essentially the City’s SWAT team. The team trains monthly and Sgt. Daniel Allen, who is the emergency response team’s commander, trains just as often with the tactical robots. In late May, he trained with the robots at City Hall after business hours.

After Chief Klopfenstein, Captain Jeremy Sanders and Sgt. Allen took a crash course from a visiting Transcend Robotics instructor and the machines were shipped, Sgt. Allen gave City Councilors a demonstration of both robots at the City Council Chamber on Monday, May 23. Holding a radio-equipped remote receiver with a display camera, Sgt. Allen sent the larger Vantage robot scuttling about on the carpeted chamber floor as City Councilors watched.

He explained that both robots can be sent into tactical situations when there is known or unknown risk to officers’ lives. Those situations might involve armed subjects who’ve barricaded themselves inside a building, people threatening suicide, family violence or crisis intervention with an intoxicated or mentally/emotionally unstable subject.

The large robot boasts a two-way audio system – speakers and a microphone -- that can be used to have a conversation with someone inside a home or other structure. Sgt. Allen can operate the large Vantage robot by line of sight for up to 1,500 feet and, using the camera for non-line of sight, 500 feet.

The fully loaded large robot is equipped with a canister mount that can deploy hot gas to help encourage a barricaded subject to surrender, a drive camera and another camera that can pan, tilt and zoom – even look at the ceiling. That robot has a thermal imaging camera for working at night and/or in the dark. The Mini-Vantage has drive cameras on the front and rear – both equipped with video cameras that can record footage. The large robot’s camera livestreams actual events and will later be equipped with body cameras to record footage.

The large Vantage’s sturdy rubber tracks are designed to climb stairs up to 7 inches high and navigate over obstacles up to 14 inches high. The Mini-Vantage, which is ideal for use in homes, can climb up to 5-inch stairs and over many common household items.

The Police Department has not had a need to use the robots in a real-life situation yet. And hostage situations are rare in Roseburg. But now the department has that option when the next situation arises.

“The main goal is it’s safer than sending in an officer,” said Sgt. Allen.