TSA explosives specialists cowboy up for robot rodeo

Friday, May 31, 2019

TSA explosives specialists from Albuquerque International Sunport participated in the 13th annual Robot Rodeo and Capability Exercise hosted at Kirtland Air Force Base by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. The week-long annual robot competition pits ten bomb squad teams against one another in 12 different challenges.

“Security and explosives experts get to test and see what works and what doesn’t, so that if they ever have an incident, they are better prepared,” said event organizer Jake Deuel.

Transportation Explosives Specialists John "JB" Barnes and Ysidro “Gonzo” Garcia developed two of the scenarios that focused on potential aviation threats. In one scenario, a cargo plane had been loaded with an explosive device. Robots had to maneuver onto the plane by a stairway to locate the cargo plane’s manifest and remove the dangerous package.

The second scenario involved an insider threat where an explosive was loaded into the cargo hold area of an aircraft. Robots had to make their way onto a baggage conveyor belt to locate and remove the suspect bag.

Both scenarios proved particularly challenging to the teams. “It was extremely critical training,” said California Air Reserve Staff Sargent Mark Marquez. “We rarely get hands-on training using an actual aircraft.”

The competition provides training to bomb squads from around the country and provides insight into real-world challenges where technology and the robots may be limited. This provides an opportunity for research funding in order to complete tasks more efficiently.