Bomb Disposal Robots: How Effective Are They?

Robots were always intended to help humans do what they cannot and even replace them to make work more efficient.

Bomb disposal is one of the most dangerous jobs globally because death or severe injury is sure to follow if anything goes wrong.

Since robots take away that element of danger almost entirely, they have found widespread adoption in bomb disposal.

Today, you’ll be seeing how a bomb disposal robot works and how effective it is at disposing and defusing bombs without bringing any human in harm’s way.

A bomb defusal robot safely defuses and renders a bomb inoperable while keeping humans away from the risks that bomb defusal can bring.

The article also talks about the advances in the sector and if you can get one for yourself.

What are Bomb Disposal Robots?

A lot of money and hours are spent training bomb defusal experts, and if an accident happens or an operation goes wrong, the money and the time go down the drain as well, along with the lives lost.

So, to prevent humans from being maimed, or worse, killed when disposing of explosives, many militaries and law enforcement agencies have started using robots to do it for them.

Operators can control these bomb disposal robots from a safe distance, keeping the disposal crew and any civilians around the area safe.

Even if the operation goes wrong, only the robot would be lost, which is relatively less risky than sending in real people.

What is the Technology that goes into Bomb Disposal Robots?

Defusing a bomb or an explosive requires fine movements and an eye for detail to see exactly what components were used in the bomb.

Bomb defusal robots come equipped with a highly articulate arm that can make all types of movement, whether it be small and delicate adjustments or wide-sweeping ones.

The arm has servo motors that move it around and is controlled by the operator who is located a safe distance away.

They also have high definition cameras so that the operator has the best image possible of the device being defused.

The future scope of these robots become clearer when they can be used with computer vision and machine learning algorithms that can help figure out what kind of device it is working on.

When a computer can quickly identify what part of the device is the one that the operator should work on, it can save precious seconds. 

Advantages of Bomb Disposal Robots

The most significant advantage that a bomb disposal robot can give you is the relative safety when defusing an explosive.

Since most of these robots are tracked, terrain won’t be an issue as well, and it can go places where it’s difficult for experts wearing large suits of explosion resistant armor to go to.

The size of these robots works to their advantage and makes it easier for bomb defusal squads to access and otherwise work on bombs that might be inaccessible to a person.

The actuator arms are also better at manipulating small items than any human, and they can pull off even the slightest movements required when defusing explosives.

Disadvantages of Bomb Disposal Robots

Since these robots are used in more high-risk missions, their chances of being destroyed or rendered inoperable is very high.

These robots aren’t cheap either, so it costs a lot of money and specialized tools to fix or replace a damaged robot.

The robots can’t be autonomous as well, because the level of technology and AI that we have right now doesn’t really work well with defusing bombs.

It still requires a human operator, so the element of human error remains.

But these are only a few minor downsides to using a bomb defusal robot, and if you can save lives using it, these disadvantages don’t figure significantly in the equation.

Bomb Disposal Robots vs Human Bomb Disposal Squads

Robots are better for disposing of bombs not just because it keeps everyone safe but its better at manipulating smaller objects than an EOD expert in a large suit of armor.

The robots will have a team of people operating them anyway, so the coordination that one might expect from a team of bomb disposal experts would be present here.

Robots can also function as teams where one robot can look for and find bombs while the other can go in and defuse them.

This isn’t really possible with human teams unless they have a trained sniffer dog or metal detectors that need them to go close to the explosive device.

All-in-all, bomb disposal robots are a better fit for the work that they do, not just because of the safety factor, but these robots can do the job faster and more efficiently.

How Much Does it Cost to Make Bomb Disposal Robots?

Developing an original bomb defusal robot with new features costs a lot of money, and even robots in mass production are costly.

Even the cheapest ones can go for up to several thousand dollars, with millions in development costs.

Custom-built robots are even more expensive, depending on the custom tools and set-up the customer had requested.

Repurposing regular robots isn’t really possible because of the safety standards that a bomb disposal robot requires, and a regular robot might not be able to traverse the terrain a bomb disposal robot could.

As a result, these robots are used mainly by the military and law enforcement agencies.

Contemporary Bomb Disposal Robot Companies

Almost all bomb disposal robots are developed and sold by major military contractors like Northrop Grumman, Harris and government military research agencies.

A civilian might not get one that has all the specifications that a military robot might have because it isn’t sold directly to the public.

BAE Systems and QinetiQ are also a few other companies that have a stake in this technology.

More companies are looking into this space, and as it develops and matures more, AI and robotic companies will also start showing their interest.

The Future of Bomb Disposal Robots

The next step for Bomb Disposal robots can go quite many ways. 

For example, a bomb defusal robot called Taurus from SRI International is developing.

It can present a 3D model of the bomb as its surroundings by using what it sees with its cameras.

It also supports VR headsets, which means that you can load the 3D environment it creates in VR and use your VR controller to control the robot in real life.

This makes defusal a whole lot easier than it is now, where operators use regular controllers and joysticks to move the robot and its arm.

We might also see robots that use computer vision and machine learning to almost completely automate the dangerous job of defusing an explosive.

Machine learning algorithms can help figure out the parts of the explosive device and identify the type of device quickly.

Bomb Defusal Made Safer

Defusing or disposing of explosives is one of the hazardous jobs in the world, and that is why we’ve enlisted the help of robots to quickly and safely get rid of explosives.

Research into bomb defusal robots can help develop other aspects of robotics, especially when these robots have finely tuned control of an actuator arm.

Developing better arms for these robots can indirectly benefit the medical robot field and contribute to the technology found in search and rescue robots.

There has been talk of using a bomb sniffer robot that uses X-ray and other technology to find hidden bombs, which can prove helpful in a search and rescue operation where the survivors might be hidden somewhere beyond sight.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does the bomb disposal robot do?

A bomb disposal robot is purpose-built to safely defuse and otherwise dispose of explosive devices without needing a human to be exposed to the dangers that an explosive can cause.

Who invented the bomb disposal robot?

The first bomb defusal robot was developed in 1972 by a British EOD officer named Peter Miller to defuse bombs planted by the IRA in Ireland.

When were the first bomb disposal robots used?

The British Army used the first bomb disposal robots in the 70s in Ireland, where there was a threat of bombings by the IRA.

How much does a bomb disposal robot cost?

Depending on how the robot is configured, bomb disposal robots can start from $10,000 and go all the way into the hundreds of thousands if the request is for a custom robot.

Millions of dollars are also spent on researching and testing new robots.