Marines

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The Talon robot identifies materials during a demonstration at the fire department training area aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune July 30 and 31. Firefighters from MCB Camp Lejeune attended the seminar to test and view the Talon’s capabilities.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Nik S. Phongsisattanak

Firefighters team up with Mr. Roboto

31 Jul 2012 | Lance Cpl. Nik S. Phongsisattanak

Firefighters risk their lives to save others on a daily basis. They rush into collapsing buildings with smoldering hot temperatures, leaking chemicals and poisonous gases. In some cases, these conditions become too extreme and dangerous for a human to face alone.

Firefighters from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, and Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear defense specialists with 2nd Marine Division were given the opportunity to test out the Talon robot during a demonstration at the fire department training area aboard MCB Camp Lejeune July 30 and 31.

The Talon was fitted with (CBRNE) add-ons to meet the practical functions in a hazardous material environment. The tray-mounted detection capabilities included devices such as a joint-chemical agent, radiation detector and a non-invasive temperature probe.

“The (Talon) can go in and detect chemical threats or other hazards before anyone is exposed to it,” said Steven W. Roberson, a regional product manager with QinetiQ. “Ninety percent of the time the system can take care of the hazard by itself with an operator working outside of the hot-zone, to find and mitigate threats. Additionally, if you have to commit a team down range to this, the platform then becomes a safety observer and a risk management tool for commanders because they can observe their team while they’re operating.”

Commanders can communicate with a response team through a public address system mounted on the robot; four cameras provide live feedback to the operator’s laptop controller, offering another set of eyes. Commanders can alert teams to hazards or threats they spot on the monitor while they operate.

The Talon is also capable of picking items up, and turning valves or circuit breakers with its manipulator arm. The arm is capable of picking up a 65-pound load, but Roberson said he has seen the robot pick up a 95 pound artillery round.

“If someone is down and there is a medical emergency, the robot can drag the casualties back to a safer area,” said Roberson. “This robot can pull a fully dressed firefighter, but it also dependents on surface. You can also deploy a fire hose with the robot.”

These robotic systems are a necessity because it is life-saving equipment, continued Roberson. It can save lives whether it’s operating the detection instruments or observing rescuers.

“I would not be talking to you today if it was not for the Talon robot,” said Roberson. “On my last tour to Iraq I lost five (Talons) to (improvised explosive devices).”

The popularity of robotics has grown, spreading from their use on assembly lines to the frontlines of warzones.

The Talon robot is currently used by departments across the country. North Carolina’s emergency response team has four Talons. Across the country in New Mexico, Washington and California there are approximately 18 robots operating in their fire departments and police department bomb squads, according to Roberson.

A hazmat team set up could take up to an hour, but these robots can be sent down range in less than five minutes, said Donald Topliff, a firefighter with Fire Department Station 6, Camp Geiger. They could possibly correct the situation long before you can have a hazmat team ready to go down range.

“The fewer personnel you need to go down range, the better,” said Topliff. “If we used the robot system to find out what we’re dealing with, it could stop a response in its tracks, or it could tell us exactly what we’re dealing with. It points us in the direction we need to go with our efforts to save lives. It is the most important part.”

The firefighters practiced using the robotic side-kick, and many were impressed with the wide array of functions. One day the Talon may find a permanent home at a fire station aboard MCB Camp Lejeune, adding a life-saving robot to the firefighter’s toolbox.