Airport police use growing fleet of robots to ferret out bombs

Airline passengers aren't the only ones looking for a better way to navigate their way through the aisles of an airplane.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has amassed a small collection of bomb disposal robots and later this year will add a fifth one capable of maneuvering narrow airplane aisles and checking for explosives under seats and in overhead bins.

The airport is buying the $300,000 robot using federal Homeland Security funding secured through a grant from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and expects to receive the machine this fall. The API Technologies teleMAX will be the most valuable robot used by the bomb squad at Hartsfield-Jackson.

Robert Bailey, head of the Atlanta Police Department's explosive ordinance disposal division, said the robots allow his division to avoid the risk of officers going in to find bombs.

"We're more likely to be injured or killed if we go down with a bomb suit instead of a robot," Bailey said. "Our primary goal is to go remotely."

The airport bought its first robot before the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and has agreements for other squads to share use of the robots. Most of the robots have arms to retrieve suspected explosive devices and place them in a bomb containment vessel, where the blast can be controlled. Some robots have fewer capabilities, but are small enough to get into tighter areas. One mini-robot is used at the airport mainly for surveillance under cars and in other confined areas.

The teleMAX robot, which weighs about 200 pounds, can climb stairs, get into tight spaces and reach into overhead bins.

"They all have their own purposes," Bailey said. "The technology is always improving."