Eagle County Special Operations Unit acquires two new tactical robots
Transcend robots with different capabilities enter the local SWAT toolbox
The Eagle County Special Operations Unit, a tactical team affiliated with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, the Eagle Police Department, the Avon Police Department and the Vail Police Department as well as Eagle County Paramedics and Vail Health, has recently welcomed two robots to the team.
The robots, manufactured by Transcend Robotics, are designed to assist SWAT operations within the county. Matt Westenfelder, a patrol sergeant for the Vail Police Department and a deputy commander for the special operations unit, said that each of the robots performs different tasks. Despite their differences, the machines were both purchased by the Eagle County Special Operations Unit to increase safety during tactical operations.
The first of the two robots currently housed in the Vail Police Department is the Hot Gas Delivery System. This robot has the capability to enter a potentially dangerous scene and search for something and then deploy a non-lethal highly irritating gas. Westenfelder said the Hot Gas Delivery System can search for nearly anything.
“Then it also has the ability to deploy what we call chemical ammunitions, so it can deploy something like pepper spray from it,” Westenfelder said. “So, we can tell the suspect, you know, ‘Come out with your hands up. If you don’t, it could lead to us deploying chemical ammunitions.”
Westenfelder said that the deployment of chemical ammunitions by Eagle County SWAT personnel prior to having the robots would look more like breaking windows and throwing the ammunitions inside.
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“This definitely could lend itself to a lot less property damage if we ever had to use them,” Westenfelder said.
The Transcend Robotics website details that the Hot Gas Delivery System is also capable of climbing stairs while deploying.
The second of the two robots, also manufactured by Transcend Robotics, is called the Vantage Breacher. Westenfelder said this robot is the only breaching robot in existence — the first remote method without explosives or projectiles. The Vantage Breacher has the capability to break through barricades and doors, without putting responders in immediate danger.
An operator who controls the Vantage Breacher remotely can also use the robot’s night vision, two-way radio and other tools to navigate the scene and communicate with people inside. According to the Transcend Robotics website, the Vantage Breacher is also equipped with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosives and other hazardous materials.
“We can stay on the outside of the house, for example, and send the technology in to do some of the work,” Westenfelder said. “It’s typical, for even like a bomb call, we’re not going to send people in more than likely. Obviously, it’s safer for us. So, we probably do a reverse 911 call, get everybody out of the area and we would send our team up and then we could find the device with the robot without having to actually go in.”
According to the Transcend Robotics website, the Vantage Breacher is capable of getting through 10 bolt-locked doors on a single charge. The Vantage Breacher is also equipped with a two-way audio communication system.
So, should an everyday police call turn into a SWAT situation, the special operations unit would bring out its special weapons, tools and tactics, which now include the Transcend robots.
While the community won’t see these robots out and about for day-to-day policing, certain community outreach events through the special operations unit have been demonstrating how the robots work and answering questions people may have about them.
“Everyone thinks they’re amazing,” Westenfelder said. “If we were on a scenario where, you know, shots were fired at a residence, typically, we’d have to manually breach the door. Now, we don’t have to send three or four people up to the front door where possible shots could be fired. We can send the robot from a safe distance behind cover or concealment, and we could open that front door and eventually get communication with the suspect inside through the searching robot with the two-way radio.”
While the Eagle County Special Operations Unit has several people well versed in robotics, as the team currently uses tactical drones, Westenfelder said the Transcend robots require additional instruction.
So, the special operations unit is sending eight people to train with the robots in Georgia under a Transcend Robotics instructional program.
“There’s a skill learning how to drive something up and down stairs for example,” Westenfelder said. “And if you have to drive it behind a place of cover or concealment, you have to trust the cameras that are on the robot because you’re not going to be able to watch it move. It definitely takes a lot of practice — getting the breachers set up in the doorway and everything takes practice.”
The Eagle County Special Operations Unit has the robots thanks to Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek, Avon Police Chief Greg Daly and Vail Police Chief Ryan Kenney.
“Without them putting the money together for (the robots), we wouldn’t have gotten them,” Westenfelder said.