SWAT robot gains fans among Henderson students

By Jessica Fryman

One local fifth-grader already knows what he wants for Christmas — the Henderson SWAT team’s new robot, Andros Mark 5.

“It will be on my list this year,” Carl Miller, a 10-year-old at Wolff Elementary in Henderson, said. “I mean, what else can push a school bus?”

Miller joined about two dozen other fifth-graders in the Gifted And Talented Education (GATE) program Thursday, for a demonstration of a tactical robot with the Henderson SWAT team. The show came as a culmination to the group’s robotics studies.

The apparatus is the department’s own Christmas present, one that arrived in late December through a $250,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant. After it arrived, the SWAT team completed two months of training and since has used the Andros Mark 5 once in the field.

The 800-pound machine can climb stairs, open doors, break windows, talk and look through walls, among other skills. The device provides a safer way for the police department to conduct operations, Lt. Marc Cassell said.

In fifth-grade terms, it “saves lives, protecting the officers, the good guys and the bad guys.”

On its sole mission last month, the robot provided a safe end to a situation that started with a woman firing shots in her apartment. When the woman answered her door to retrieve a working phone so she could communicate with police, she pointed her gun at the messenger — the Andros Mark 5. Had an officer been standing there, the situation might have ended in gunfire.

The students built their own lifesaving robots in class, using Lego Mindstorm NXT robotics kits, and programmed them to make certain movements.

“These are really top-notch kids,” GATE teacher Tricia Christensen said. “Some of them researched to make projects that weren’t already in use, or others found ways to make existing robots better.”

Buddy, 11-year-old Jewelynn Ceballos’ android, hypothetically would detect bombs and rescue people from such dangerous circumstances.

“He had a few problems along the way, but in the end, he was successful,” she said of her group’s 6-inch-tall contraption.

Ceballos’ model fell a little short of Andros Mark 5’s talents, though, she said.

She said she was quite impressed with its clawlike extension and speaking abilities as an officer controlled the machine from inside the SWAT truck.

“Do you want to play a game?” Andros Mark 5 asked the students, as its claw inched closer to Ceballos.

“Let’s not play a game,” she exclaimed, worried it would snatch her.

The claw seemed to be the main attraction among the fifth-graders, with “that’s cool” goomh around as they whipped out their cellphones, hoping to get photos and videos of the action.

The demonstration inspired a few students to build their own real-life robot in the future.

Miller said while his Lego model “The Crosser” would help people safely cross the street, he hopes to construct a cyborg servant that will execute any command.

This story was originally published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal
on June 3, 2011.
Original story on the Las Vegas Review-Journal website.