Robots go for the gold at Bomb Squad Olympiad

South Carolina event includes a bomb relay race and a robot obstacle course

About 20 teams from throughout the Southeast are taking part this week in the South Carolina Bomb Squad Olympiad, a three-day event designed to let bomb technicians sharpen their skills while having a little fun,

The events include a relay race with participants decked out in 80- to 100-pound bomb suits, a “Hook and Line” event in which contestants must remove a fake bomb from a car, and an obstacle course that tests the crews’ ability to direct a robot through a course in a simulated bomb call.

Bomb squad robots have been around for years, used for defusing bombs but also for navigating other dangerous situations. Police in Washington, D.C., for instance, used a robot in a standoff with a van driver before President George W. Bush’s second inauguration, CNET reported. Nebraska started using them in 2004.

The people at Pixar Studios, in fact, based the title character in the movie “Wall-E” at least partly on a robot used by the San Mateo County, Calif., Bomb Squad, according to Tuan Nguyen of ABC News
The idea of testing them in competition has been tried before, too. Earlier this year, bomb squads in and around New Mexico honed their skills at the Robot Rodeo, an event that included having the robots make pancakes via remote control, according to the Associated Press.

At the South Carolina event, robots were included as part of the bomb squad teams, although the olympiad focused more on the people who remove and defuse bombs for a living. Teams from police departments in the Southeast took part, as did teams from the Army and Air Force.

The event may be fun, but the serious side of the occupation wasn’t far from the minds of the participants. Richard Walker of the Times and Democrat in Orangeburg, S.C., reported that several teams from Georgia canceled after receiving news that a comrade had been killed in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb.

"You still feel like you lost a brother," Kevin Jordan, a bomb tech with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, told Walker. "It's still a family. You know the sacrifices he made for his country, and for his brother. We shed a tear over that guy."

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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