Cop With a Fuse : Andros 5A, the Bomb Squad Robot, Shows What He's Made Of

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Squat and deceptively awkward-looking, the Andros 5A--a state-of-the-art robot--rode into Camarillo on Monday to show county law enforcement authorities what it can do.

In a demonstration before members of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department bomb squad, the three-foot-tall, remote-controlled robot lurched through a range of exercises at the sheriff's shooting range at the Camarillo Airport.

The Andros is the first such robot to be demonstrated in Ventura County, where sheriff's officials hope to purchase the model or one similar to it. Bomb squads in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego already have bomb-handling robots, authorities said.

In those areas, the robots have proved invaluable in handling suspicious-looking devices and have become standard safety equipment for bomb squads.

Sheriff's officials said a robot could be put to good use in Ventura County, where the bomb squad has responded to more than 40 calls this year.

"There's definitely a need for one," said Sgt. Tom Convery, a bomb technician. "We've picked up lots of live bombs, and any one of them was potentially life-threatening. . . . You can work without a robot, but you work at much greater danger."

In the past three months, two pipe bombs exploded in Thousand Oaks. One, which did $2,500 damage to a car in May, apparently was planted by teen-agers, authorities said. The other, left in front of a Domino's Pizza Restaurant, shattered a glass door and window.

Last week, the bomb squad was called to pick up a device believed to be a pipe bomb on Hemlock Street in Ventura.

Although the Ventura device turned out to be a hoax, the immediate area was evacuated. Convery said he donned a 60-pound, $10,000 bomb suit "and had to go within inches of the device to attach a line to it and remotely remove it."

"With a robot, you wouldn't have to do that," Convery said. A robot equipped with an X-ray device could have detected that the bomb was fake, he said.

"I think we've run into more live devices this year than in the 11 years I've been on the bomb squad unit," Convery said.

The Andros was merely stopping over in Ventura County on its way to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, where it is scheduled for delivery today.

Deputy Pat Hunter, a Los Angeles sheriff's spokesman, said the Andros will be used to replace another robot "that died on us" of mechanical failure.

In its Ventura performance, the Andros was put through its paces in a graveled clearing by Shawn Farrow, marketing manager for Remotec Inc., the Oak Ridge, Tenn., company that built the robot.

Sitting behind a remote-control panel containing a video monitor with a robot's-eye view, Farrow maneuvered the machine's extension arm to pick up first a briefcase, and then a two-foot-long metal pipe--the size of an average pipe bomb.

Displaying a delicacy that belied its 600-pound frame, the robot, attached to a 324-foot-long cable, trundled up a ramp and deposited the pipe in a huge drum with explosive-resistant frame. The Andros is capable of climbing most staircases, can lift up to 100 pounds and is waterproof.

The versatile robot model has been used by law enforcement agencies in other states in hostage and terrorist situations, Farrow said.

Earlier this year in Kentucky, another Andros--dubbed "Andy" by law enforcement officials in that state--proved its mettle when a gun-wielding youth took his entire school class hostage, Farrow said. The robot was used to transport box lunches to hungry hostages, and so unnerved the youth that he addressed it as if it were human, Farrow said.

An Andros in New York was shot at, although the gunman missed.

The Andros' basic price tag of about $66,000 can climb to $80,000 or more for a fully loaded model, with such accessories as an X-ray unit, a Geiger counter and various kinds of hand-like devices for picking up bombs and packages.

Purchasing the robot would be cost-effective, considering that the county recently increased the amount paid to the survivors of bomb squad members killed on duty from $50,000 to $100,000, Convery said.

But Ventura County may still be as much as a year away from getting a robot.

Cmdr. Vince France, head of the Sheriff's Department's special services division, said it is unlikely that the county could buy a robot before next fiscal year.

Besides, sheriff's officials are still evaluating both the Andros and several other models and will choose one of the robots to recommend to the county for purchase, France said. So far, the Andros is "heads above" some of its competition, France said.

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