'..tons of benefits for doing this'
by Melanie Patterson
Apr 10, 2012 | 1559 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Community, education and police leaders met at the Walker County Center of Technology on Monday to brainstorm about students in the FIRST Robotics program building a robot for the Jasper Police Department. - Photo by: Melanie Patterson
Community, education and police leaders met at the Walker County Center of Technology on Monday to brainstorm about students in the FIRST Robotics program building a robot for the Jasper Police Department. - Photo by: Melanie Patterson
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The Jasper Police Department anticipates having a robot that would be used in situations that endanger officers’ lives.

The problem is, the department has no funds for such a machine, according to Jasper Police Chief Connie Rowe.

Local industry and education leaders do not see it as a problem; they see it as an opportunity.

On Monday, a handful of people met at the Walker County Center of Technology to brainstorm about making the robot a reality.

The idea is for students in the Center of Technology’s FIRST Robotics program to help design and build a custom robot that meets the Jasper department’s needs.

On hand was Jim Short, a mentor in the Center of Technology’s FIRST Robotics program; Walter Gonzalez, operations plant manager for BAE Systems; Rowe and two members of the JPD Critical Incident Response Team (tactical team); and Center of Technology administration and instructors.

“Having access to a robot is well out of the budget range for the city of Jasper. This cooperative effort will give the tactical team some capabilities,” said Rowe. “Anytime we can use a machine instead of a human being in a highly dangerous situation, it’s a good day for us.”

Rowe added that a robot would enhance the department’s community policing program.

“It would launch us way down the road to where we need to be,” she said. “We are so much better collectively than we are independently.”

During the meeting, those in attendance watched videos of various police and military robots available commercially, as well as one used by a police department in Florida. The videos helped further the conversation about what capabilities the Jasper robot would have.

A robot could be useful in search and rescues, active searches, bomb threats and other situations. Rowe said useful capabilities would include launching objects (such as tear gas), retrieving, “seeing” into a room with a camera, pulling an injured person to safety and climbing stairs.

“It would be great for it to be able to see and hear so you wouldn’t have to send an officer into a dangerous situation,” she said.

Haley Williams, welding instructor at the Center of Technology, said the school’s teachers and students could build a machine to meet practically any of the police department’s needs.

Also at the meeting was Johnny Caldwell, computer maintenance and networking instructor at the school.

“We can build anything,” Williams said. “Put all of us and all of our kids together and we can come up with something.”

The next step is for the participants to narrow down the design of the robot and to reach out to the community for support.

Short said the First Robotics program, which is an extracurricular activity at the school, does not use any Center of Technology funds.

“It’s a self-sustaining program,” he said.

Deb Ellis, principal at the Center of Technology, said the program’s projects, which include an annual robot competition, have in the past been supported by BAE Systems, Alabama Power, JC Penney, Radial Tire and Bandag and Jeff Mize Associates.

Other businesses offer in-kind support.

Ellis said she is excited about the program because it will expose students to other fields of study and possible career options.

“They will have a broader view of occupations in the world of electronics and law enforcement,” said Ellis.

Gonzalez, with BAE Systems, agreed.

“This will be inspiring to students,” he said. “There are tons of benefits for doing this.”