Real-Life 'Robocops' Saving Lives

Real-life "robocops" are becoming a popular new crime-fighting tool at law enforcement agencies around the country, doing dangerous work that can save cops' lives.

Although they may not be as lifelike as the Hollywood version, robots are being used increasingly by bomb squads and SWAT teams in the United States.

"I can always replace a robot. I can't replace one of my guys," Tucson Police Department bomb squad Cmdr. Ardan Devine told ABC News.

The Tucson Police Department bought its first robot from the FBI in 1992, Devine said. The robot — a model known as a Mark V, as in 5, made by the company Remotec, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corp. — was later sold to another police department, but today the Tucson department has three robots.

Tim Szymanski, a public information officer for the Las Vegas Fire and Rescue, said his department started using a Remotec robot approximately five years ago and called it a member of the bomb squad. He declined to name the specific model but said it was comparable to the model the Las Vegas Police Department had, Remotec's Mark V-A1.

All robots are equipped with cameras that feed back to officials on the scene so they can remotely assess the severity of a situation, Northrop Grumman spokesman Paul Cabellon told ABC News. Remotec's robots can also climb stairs and pick up objects and put them into safe containers.

Devine said one of his bomb squad's robots had been deployed during a bank robbery and had up-close contact with the suspect, who had his mouth taped shut and had handed the teller a note saying he had a bomb in his mouth.

After police had handcuffed the suspect to a railing, the robot removed the tape from the suspect's lips, at which time he spit out the objects in his mouth. The robot then placed them in a blast-resistant container so they could be safely removed, Devine said.

Although the objects in the suspect's mouth turned out to be completely harmless, Devine said he was glad he avoided using one of his officers.

"It would have necessitated a person going down and [doing] this manually," he said. "If [the suspect] does have a bomb on him, I certainly don't want to go down next to him."

A bomb that killed one person at Las Vegas' Luxor hotel and casino prompted increased use of the bomb squad's robot, Szymanski said. Because the deadly bomb was in a coffee cup, afterward people at the Luxor regularly called law enforcement, weary of everyday, harmless-looking objects.

"People were highly suspicious, and we didn't have anyone under arrest at the time … so the robot was sent in to check it out," he said.

Remotec sells five different models of robots to law enforcement agencies, said Mark Kauchak, the director of business development at Remotec. The smallest models weigh approximately 200 pounds, the largest 900 pounds. They range in cost from $80,000 to $250,000. Remotec's most popular model, the F6A, costs about $130,000.

"It's kind of right in the middle, so it just gives [law enforcement officials] a lot of good capabilities for the size and the price," Kauchak said of the F6A.

The Tucson department has two F6As, Devine said, in addition to one smaller model. He said the robots accompanied approximately 80 percent of SWAT team calls.

Remotec's various models are compatible with the same accessories, Kauchak said, so an agency can buy different robots that can share accessories.

Robots used by law enforcement agencies will be featured at a conference hosted by the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators July 29 through Aug. 3 in Phoenix.

Although the robots are expensive, Cabellon said, most major U.S. cities now use them in an effort to save officers' lives.

Szymanski said a robot's cost was a small price to pay for safety.

"Why take a chance if you've got a machine that does it?" he said. "It's well worth it."