This morning Dallas Police chief David Brown said a bomb detection robot attached with an explosive device was used to kill a suspected gunman apparently involved in the horrific fatal shootings of five police officers.
[Update] The Dallas Police have released an official statement regarding the robot used to kill one of the Dallas shooters on Thursday night. The robot is made by Northrop Grumman’s subsidiary Remotec. According to the department, the model is an F5 model and used C4 and a “det” cord for the operation.
According to experts, it’s the first lethal use by a civilian police force of a military bomb robot. Similar robots have been used in high-stress situations, such as defusing bombs or even delivering pizzas to prevent suicide, but nothing quite like this.
“It is the first deliberately,” Peter Singer of the New America Foundation, told Gizmodo via email. “There has been sketchy reporting on an accidental case in [Tennessee], where tear gas canister shot during a standoff accidentally started a fire that burned down a mobile home.”
As of this writing, we’re still not exactly sure what kind of robot was used—the Dallas Police Department isn’t releasing more information at this time—but we have a strong idea. Immediately after this morning’s press conference, Singer tweeted that the scenario sounded similar to ad hoc tactics used by US soldiers in Iraq. Their bot of choice? The Marcbot-IV.
Others were quickly convinced that the Marcbot was likely:
Because of the Pentagon’s 1033 program, an initiative that enables the flow of military equipment to civilian police forces, it’s possible for police departments to get their hands on these types of machines. According to an intensive report from Bard College in 2014, bomb disposal robots are often ambiguously labeled “Robot, Explosive Ordnance Disposal,” so we can’t be for certain about a robot’s make or model based only on available 1033 documents.
Here’s a US Army demo of the Marcbot in action:
The report also says that Marcbots and Endeavor Robotics’ Packbots are listed among equipment transfers as part of the 1033 initiative. Gizmodo has also reached out to Endeavor Robotics, makers of the Packbot, and will update if and when we hear back.
However, the Marcbot is relatively simple and cheap (around $8,000) compared to the much more advanced bomb disposal bots from Northrop Grumman that go for as much as $180,000. Evidence gathered from a PDF document labeled “Identification and Utilization of Department Equipment” shows DPD’s three robots with one of them (far right) looking like Northrop Grumman’s Remotec Andros F6. Andros also makes other models, like the Mark 5A-1, which the Dallas PD also reportedly owns.
When searching through the Dallas City Hall purchase directory, all “police investigation robots” were purchased through Remotec, Inc., a robotics subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, and is also listed as equipment in Dallas’ operations manual. Additional reports have confirmed that the DPD has an Andros unit on hand.
Additionally, here’s another photo taken in June 2015 of what looks like an Andros robot in action in the Dallas area.
The Mark 5A-1 and F6 are significantly more advanced than the Marcbot. While the bot used in Iraq is little more than a remote-controlled car with a movable arm, Northrop Grumman’s bots have a wider array of features, including color surveillance cameras, robotic arm with seven degrees of motion, camera extenders, and wheels to help climb stairs (the gunman was cornered on the second floor).
Northrop Grumman declined to comment on whether its robot was used in today’s operation.
We’ll update this post when we know more.