The students of the Umatilla School District got a surprise on Monday when they found out they’re the new caretakers of a robot. Not just any robot, either — a bomb-inspecting robot formerly used by the Oregon State Police.
Lt. Mike Turner told the students of Clara Brownell Middle School that he and some other officers had heard about Umatilla’s active robotics program, and wanted to give the students the robot to help them apply the skills they’re learning in the real world.
“A lot of what state troopers do is going out and patrolling the highway, but there are many other things we do as an agency,” he said. “One of those things is the bomb technician program.”
Turner and three members of the explosives division demonstrated three different robots for students: an ICore robot, a lightweight machine which can quickly climb stairs and is primarily used to observe and reach for objects, and a Remotec F6A, a heavy-duty robot which is used for visibility and to manipulate or open packages. Both robots had several cameras attached to them.
The third one, a Green Cub Robot, had a unique nickname.
“We call it ‘Dill Pickle’ because it’s green,” said Detective Placido Lopez.
The students were excited to learn that the robot was there to stay. A student from each grade was picked out of the audience to learn how to drive the machines, which are operated by remote control.
“Our motto is ‘start remote, stay remote,’” said Sgt. Karl Farber, explaining to the students how robots allow the team to explore suspicious packages or materials, while keeping people away from potential explosives.
Even if students don’t use their robotics skills to enter a law enforcement field, Superintendent Heidi Sipe said she was excited for students to see an example of the types of jobs available to kids with knowledge of the subject.
“Their robots are far more sophisticated systems than what we do,” she said. “We’ll let the kids disassemble them and learn, and apply the knowledge to what they work on.”
The newer robots are radio-controlled, whereas the old one is controlled by fiber optics. Farber said that is a little more cumbersome.
But students were happy with the older model.
“We get to drive it, and make improvements if we want,” said Cheyenne Clark, a seventh-grader at Clara Brownell who works as a programmer on the school’s robotics team.
After the assembly, officers let students test out the robots. The Remote F6A is strong enough to pull a person across the gym floor — a feature several Umatilla students had to test out for themselves.
Senior Trooper Jerrad Little talked about the training involved to be part of OSP’s explosives team.
“The initial school is in Alabama, and it’s a six-week course,” he said. The trainees learn about everything from the robotics of the machines to putting on bomb suits and how circuits work.
“It’s a pretty intensive course,” he said. On top of that, there are specific trainings officers will attend to hone their skills.
“Sgt. Farber just got back from a homemade explosives course,” Little said.
Turner said the explosives section could get called to a variety of situations.
“It could be a suspicious package, or old military ordnances people find in the woods. Old farms will have explosive-type stuff,” he said.
Turner said he looks forward to checking back in with the team in a few months to see what they have learned.
Contact Jayati Ramakrishnan at 541-564-4534 or firstname.lastname@example.org