Dayton police SWAT unveils tactical robot

The newest member of the Dayton police department’s SWAT team could help save lives during tense situations.

Police on Tuesday unveiled the $60,000 Avatar III tactical robot, which can open doors, move objects and includes a two-way communication system to allow officers to safely talk with someone inside a building during a standoff situation.

“We can send this robot in, we can assess dangerous areas before we ever have to send any officers in,” said Dayton police SWAT team leader Mark Kinstle. “The life-saving capabilities is very large for something like this. On Dayton SWAT, it’s always life-saving, it’s always our No. 1 priority, whether it’s citizens, officers or even suspects.”

The multi-camera machine designed by California-based Robotex Inc. has a sophisticated track system that allows it to climb stairs and roll over obstacles. Kinstle said SWAT team members already have trained with the robot.

“It is pretty sophisticated piece of technology, so it definitely takes a lot of practice,” Kinstle said. “We trained several guys on it so that they’re proficient if we need to use it.”

Instead of using the bomb squad’s robot, the Avatar III is the SWAT team’s first dedicated robot available to look through buildings to see what obstacles may be present.

“If I didn’t have this robot, I might have to send officers in with weapons to cover him and now we’re kind of in a serious, dangerous situation,” Kinstle said. “Or I could send the robot in, I could do a scan of the room and make sure it’s safe.”

Dayton police said the robot could be especially helpful in working with a suicidal subject. “Maybe if it’s an emotionally disturbed person then it’s not as threatening,” Kinstle said. “We can talk to them through the robot. The capabilities are enormous for our SWAT team.”

Dayton city commissioners approved the purchase at a November meeting. Funding for the robot was approved as part of Dayton police’s 2014 budget, with the funds to pay for it coming from assets seized by officers.

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