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Tim Nauslar

One quick search on any internet-based news source and it’s easy to see that Improvised Explosive Devices (I.E.D’s) are getting more sophisticated than ever before. Add to this, bomb technicians and other first responders, have been in the past, and always will be, a target to those seeking to do harm. A bomb technician’s training is more important now than ever as these devices become increasingly more difficult to respond to.

So, what type of devices will keep a bomb technician up at night? For me, it was the potential of a “Remote-fired I.E.D.” Military EOD Technicians have been dealing with this threat for years, but here in the United States, it is rare to find such a device. These devices contain the technology to detonate at the exact time the bomber chooses. Although there are technologies to “defeat” these devices, it is still an extreme hazard and something no one wants to see.

Other types of devices may be “victim activated”. These devices are designed to explode when someone takes some type of positive action which could be; movement, opening the package, or any other action by the victim to trigger the device.  This type of device was famously (or infamously) used in the “Unabomber” case in the late 1980’s and early 90’s and more recently in several packages sent through the mail in Texas in 2018.

The last device I will mention is “timed”. These devices are designed to explode at a predetermined time using something as simple as an “egg timer” or something more sophisticated like a “555 timer”. It has been my experience that what a bomb builder lacks in technical skill, they make up for in ingenuity. The functioning of an explosive device is only limited to the imagination of the bomber.

To counter the various types of devices used, bomb technicians rely on constant training and technology. I will talk about the latter. In my humble opinion, the two most important tools a bomb technician can use are; 1) an unmanned robotic device for approach and 2) an X-ray system for inspection. The best way to keep a bomb technician safe while dealing with a suspected I.E.D. is to stay “remote”.  This means utilizing robotic systems to approach, “interrogate” and determine whether or not the suspected package is hazardous. With the robot, you can continue to stay remote until the threat has been “rendered safe” for approach. However, for a robot to be useful in this task, it must offer a long-range wireless capability. I believe this is the most important quality of the robot. It doesn’t matter what your robot is capable of if it can’t reach the destination. Some robotics companies have taken the hint and have started utilizing a mesh network system integrated into their robots strictly for this type of mission. Visit the Federal Resources online store to see all of our robotics offerings.

What’s Inside the box?

To interrogate a suspected package, a bomb tech needs to “see inside” so they can determine whether a hazard exists or not. Since opening the device is not an option at this point, the least intrusive way of doing this is by x-ray. Although this is the least intrusive way, it is still however considered a “positive action” and there is still a possibility of detonation. To counter this, it is best to increase distances from source to package as well as less x-ray energy used. Digital Radiography (D.R.) x-ray technologies have made this possible. The ability to use a minimal amount of pulses at a longer range while obtaining a useable image has several advantages which are obvious to bomb technicians. X-Ray systems such as the SmartRayVision combined with the Golden Engineering XR-150 have been witnessed to x-ray a suspected package from 30 feet in distance with a single pulse for a clear image.

Is integrated and wired key?

We have these two technologies, which if used together, can keep a bomb technician “remote” for the duration of the package interrogation/render safe operation. There are D.R. x-ray systems out there that have been “paired” with specific robots so that they interact together, allowing the operator to view x-ray images.  This is great if you only have one robot.  Many Bomb Squads through-out the country and world have several different platforms which fit certain call-out needs.  However, the likelihood of this x-ray system being integrated with each of the team’s platforms is highly unlikely. With that said, I believe that having a reliable “wireless” x-ray system which can be delivered by medium, large, and some small-sized robots regardless of robotic manufacturer is the way to go.  This can be considered cost-saving for a squad in that you only need the one D.R. system.  One complaint of D.R. systems is the difficulty of building a “mosaic” (several images combined into one large image).  For those unaware, there are systems out there that have the capability of building mosaic images and they should be strongly considered if you are in the market for a D.R. x-ray system.  SmartRayVision has had great success utilizing a “stitching” method to combine images into one. Similar to what I said about the robot, wireless capability is paramount when using robotically delivered x-ray systems.  Just like the robot, you can have this fantastic x-ray system but if it doesn’t work “down range,” then what’s the use in having it?

I hope that this information has been helpful as well as informative for those that have an interest in these fields or have ever had to go down-range.  Technology in this field, just like computers, is ever-changing and improving.  For the bomb technicians reading this, it is imperative that you stay on top of the improvements in robotically delivered x-ray systems, as this may be the difference between “life and death.”  Stay safe!!!