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Last week in the New Mexico desert military and civilian bomb squads stood at the 12th Annual Robot Rodeo, which is a week of intensive training organized by Sandia National Laboratories. To test their skills, bomb squads piloted their bots to invade crashed planes, explore faux radioactive disaster sites, and climb stairs.
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"Everyone else is running away from the bomb, and these people are leaving," says Jake Deuel, robotics manager at Sandia and coordinator of the rodeo. His goal is to support bomb squads in real situations and to learn what their robots can and can not do. "We train these people to get home safely," he says.

Some of the elaborated scenarios were developed to test the skills and problem-solving abilities of the robot operators. For example, an exercise was based on the 1984 movie Red Dawn, in which teens fight World War I against invading forces. The competing robots had to go into a downed Phantom F-4 fighter jet to "retrieve the black box and some of the fancy electronics so we can figure out what the enemy is doing," says Deuel. In another exercise, bomb squads had to be collaborated to find the sources of an underground radiation leak and contain them.

"It's not as if you drive remote-controlled cars, it's complicated, there are broken wings and sharp objects, challenging areas to bring the robot to," says Deuel. That's why this kind of training is so important. The scenarios are "about robot manipulation and control, wrapped around a funny little story."

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