Sporting events, especially those that operate on a global scale, have a long history of uniting and inspiring individuals around the world. People are passionate about sports, and spend billions of dollars attending games and buying team merchandise.
Unfortunately, there’s a dark side to that revelry. Emotions run at an all-time high at games, increasing the possibility of violence, crime, and crowd-control issues. The publicity and prominence of these events on an international stage also makes them highly attractive targets for terrorists and others out to make a name for themselves or their cause.
Brazil, the site of this year’s 2014 FIFA World Cup (one of the world’s most widely viewed sporting events) and the 2016 Summer Olympics, isn’t taking these safety and security threats lightly. On top of employing about 170,000 security personnel and spending close to 1.9 billion reais ($798 million) on ensuring a trouble free World Cup tournament, Brazilian government and law enforcement officials will also be pitting any terrorists or hooligans planning on disrupting the event against an unusual foe: a military-grade robot called PackBot.
The human factor in securing sporting events
The intervention and prevention of violence and crime at events like the World Cup are extremely difficult for law officials due to people’s unpredictable nature. Violence within the stadiums, like the horrific fan-fight that occurred during an Atletico Paranaense and Vasco da Gama Brazilian football match, and the risk of violence from protesters are a large concern. And while Brazil has never been a target of international terrorism, recent attacks, like the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon, have led to increased security measures.
In a $7.2 million deal with iRobot—a Bedford, Massachusetts-based company that makes domestic robots for consumers as well as defense and security robots for the U.S. military—the Extraordinary Secretariat for the Security of Great Events (SESGE) and the Brazilian Federal Police procured 30 PackBots to bring a high-tech approach to security. The robots have already been tested in 2013 during the Confederations Cup and Papal visit in July, and will be deployed to all 12 host cities during the World Cup.
“These robots will be used by the Federal Police and other local police forces throughout Brazil to provide public safety support during major events and for other law enforcement applications moving forward,” says Tim Trainer, vice president of robotic products for iRobot’s defense and security unit.
Equipped with a game-style controller for easy and remote operation, the PackBot is a unique, multi-mission robot that can travel up to 5.8 MPH, climbs grades of up to 60 degrees (meaning that it can climb stairs and maneuver itself over tricky terrain), and can be submersed in up to 3 feet of water.
A 4.9 GHz mesh radio kit allows the PackBot to use multiple nodes to establish and relay communications in radio challenged environments, and the robot also has state-of-the-art GPS, video image display, system monitoring, electronic compass, and temperature sensors.
The most important capability of the PackBot, however, is its versatility when it comes to security. “With respect to large events,” Trainer explains, “they can be used for a number of scenarios, including the identification and disposal of potentially dangerous objects, to obtain situational awareness in a potentially dangerous environment, and to communicate with someone in an area that may not be reachable.”
The PackBot has already provided support for a variety of military, law enforcement and disaster response teams, saving countless lives along the way.
In addition to large scale events, the robots have been used to inspect buildings at the World Trade Center site after 9/11, to survey damage and assist in recovery operations at the Fukushima nuclear power plant after the earthquake and tsunami, and to assist with the post-marathon investigation in Boston. There is also continued use of PackBots in a variety of daily security and law enforcement operations, including the inspection and disposal of suspicious devices, SWAT, HazMat, reconnaissance, and hostage negotiations.
For the police, the robot’s additional abilities to provide real-time video and perform surveillance of life-threatening situations may be one of the most important offerings due to the possibility of public protests during the World Cup. With recent marches taking on a violent edge from radical anarchists Black Bloc, having the added surveillance could assist in decreasing brutal confrontations between law enforcements and civilians.
”We will guarantee the security of fans, tourists, teams, and the chiefs-of-state that will visit us,” stated President Dilma Rousseff at a February press event in the Brazilian state of Alagoas. “I am certain we will host the cup of cups.”
The future of robotic security
Autonomous robots, like PackBots in Brazil and the new K5 security bot created by Knightscope, are live case-studies on how robotics can be applied to general law enforcement and event security. These bots can not only protect civilians, but also ensure that law enforcers don’t have to put themselves in direct risk during life-threatening situations.
“We see robots playing an increasing role for a variety of missions, including security, law enforcement, defense and certain industrial applications,” Trainer states. “Given their range in size and unique capabilities, robots will open the door to new applications for public safety use, for event security and beyond.”
Photo: Bloomberg/Michael Fein