As robotics becomes more prominent, 'robot rodeos' are all the rage

Bomb squads from across Oklahoma got together recently to test what have become key members of their teams — robots.

Participants from several cities, the state Highway Patrol and military and FBI units gathered in Oklahoma City for the “robot rodeo” to test their skills with handling robots against a variety of obstacles and share information about responding to bomb threats, Government Technology reports.

The rodeo was the latest in a string of such events that reflect the growing part robotics is playing in emergency response, military operations and other tasks.

A year ago, 20 teams from the Southeast took part in the South Carolina Bomb Squad Olympiad, a three-day event that included all aspects on bomb-squad operations, such as a relay race while members were clad in heavy bomb-squad suits. But it also let bomb technicians work on their robot-control skills and, like the Oklahoma rodeo, talk with other team members about best practices.

The Energy Department’s Los Alamos National Laboratory has hosted a series of robot rodeos for bomb squads in the Southwest. One of them even included a pancake cooking contest among the 10 challenges designed to test the robots’ — and handlers’ — skills.

Sandia National Laboratories also hosts the Western National Robot Rodeo, which in 2010 was a four-day, 10-event competition for bomb squads and other organizations that use hazardous-duty robots.

And it’s not just bomb squads holding rodeos. The Army in 2009 staged a “Robotics Rodeo” at Fort Hood, Texas, that focused on testing a variety of robotic devices that could be used in military missions.

As robotics technology advances to everything from insect-size reconnaissance robots to human-like (or mannequin-like) household servants, robot rodeos and the like are bound to become more common. And calling them rodeos seems to be the thing to do.

One group of educators in Dallas tried recently to get students involved computer-driven robotics with the SIGCSE 2011 Robot Hoedown & Rodeo, which let kids program robots to dance (the hoedown) and then take part in the rodeo.


About the Author

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


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