Between June 11 and June 15, eight police and military bomb squads gathered in the desert in New Mexico, Albuquerque, with robots for company, at the 12th annual Western National Robot Rodeo. The robot rodeo – who thought such a term would exist one day – is Sandia National Laboratories’ week-long, 11-event competition where bomb squads and their robots are faced with challenging and dangerous simulated scenarios.
Describing the event, Sandia Robotics Manager and Event Coordinator Jake Deuel told the The Verge: “Instead of bringing your own bottle, you bring your own bot to the event.”
The rodeo, however, is anything but a party. The American laboratory develops science and technology to “ resolve the nation’s most challenging security issues” and the rodeo week is geared at preparing duty robots and their handlers for real-life emergencies. The idea is to push the team to their limits and test the capabilities of the robots and their handlers.
As part of the challenges, bomb squads steer their robots through fake radioactive disaster sites and over multiple obstacles to get to their targets. To make things more interesting, some of the simulated scenarios are based on films. For example, in a variation of the war film Red Dawn (1984), robots have to enter a downed fighter jet to retrieve electronics and intelligence. A scenario inspired by Men in Black (1997) requires robots to retrieve alien blood, Deuel told The Verge.
“The bottom line of the Robot Rodeo is we’re trying to take good robot operators and turn them into great robot operators,” Deuel said in a press statement. The Albuquerque Police Department won this year’s competition.