Robots to tackle armful of bombs

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 January, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 January, 1996, 12:00am

THE Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit has taken delivery of two new 'robots' billed as 'probably the best in the world' for dealing with explosive devices.

The English-made robots, Wheelbarrow 1 and Wheelbarrow 2, have just passed acceptance tests and are ready for action.

They are bigger and much more powerful than the 'Cyclops' still in use, which can carry only one weapon as opposed to the seven which can be accommodated on a Wheelbarrow.

'Of course, they are also much more expensive. Each wheelbarrow costs about $1.3 million,' said Bomb Disposal Officer Dominic Brittain.

The new remote-controlled robots can be fixed with stretching arms which extend horizontally for three to four metres. This function, among other things, allows the robot to operate through car windows to dispose of suspected explosive items inside.

'The Wheelbarrow weighs 320 kg and is much stronger and better for cross-country work. It can climb a 45-degree slope easily,' said Mr Brittain.

'And with a width of 60 centimetres, it can pass through public housing estate corridors easily and enter flats without any difficulty.

'If there is an operation on an aeroplane, we have to use the Cyclops which is smaller and can fit into limited space.

'So the two kinds of robot complement each other and are used for different tasks or circumstances.' The Wheelbarrows can be operated by radio up to 250 metres away from the operator. The device can also be attached to a fibre-optic control or traditional cable control if there is radio interference at the scene. However, not all of the danger of the job can be taken on by the robots, which are designed to deal with improvised explosive devices or home-made bombs.

Bomb disposal officers (BDOs) often have to handle items such as World War II bombs because the robots are not designed to handle these weapons.

'We will use robots whenever it is possible because after all it's dangerous work,' said Mr Brittain.

The duty of a BDO is to dispose of or disarm suspected explosive items.

The officer is responsible for operating the robots and assisting the BDO in every way during an operation.

It takes about 50 hours to train an officer to handle the robots.