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But Boots the robot helps saves lives of law enforcement officers

SEBRING - When a Highlands County prisoner escaped and was believed to be holed up in a foreclosed home with a gun two years ago, Boots the robot helped to prevent harm to law enforcement officers and capture the man. Boots, which is owned by the State Fire Marsh's Office and looks more like a robot out of a primitive science fiction movie than RoboCop, can nevertheless, walk, climb stairs, and serve as a device through which a criminal and law enforcement can communicate. It can even grab objects, do Xrays and destroy improvised explosive devices. In the escape situation, it helped secure part of the residence. And Boots may be the first robot to have been awarded a Purple Heart.
In a situation in Polk County, the robot entered a house and a man shot it five times, said Brandon A. Ball, a law enforcement/major/bomb technician with the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations in the Division of State Fire Marshall. The robot likely saved lives "by drawing attention of the bad guy," he said. That meant the criminal wasn't focused on the "deputies coming to get him." As a result, the Polk County Sheriff's Office awarded the robot its version of the Purple Heart.

During the last several years, there's been several incidents in Highlands County where the robot was used. It's part of a cooperative relationship between the Highlands County Sheriff's Office and the State Fire Marshal's Office, said Lt. Jack Bailey with the Sheriff's Office. Jeff Atwater, the state's chief financial officer, and his predecessor, Alex Sink, have encouraged the State Fire Marshal's Office to use the robots in conjunction with county and city law enforcement, Ball said. Bailey said the robot offers the opportunity for reconnigsence without having to risk the lives of law enforcement officers who may otherwise be unaware of hidden dangers. "That's what it's about in the end," he said. "Equipment can be replaced or repaired a lot more easily than someone's husband or father." With the a controller device, a law enforcement officer can see what the robot "sees" and move it forwards, backwards and sideways, while seeing how it is moving, Ball said. That can be done from a "significant" distance away from the robot, he said. The robot also can be helpful in situations where the danger is ended. Bailey said that in a situation where someone is barricaded in a building and there's a gun battle, it may end suddenly. At that point, he said, officers may not know whether the subject is dead or waiting for law enforcement to make some move. The robot can go in the structure and find the subject, who may be injured. "We want to save their lives," he said. The robot can be used in situations where there's a suspicious package, Ball said. It can carry a small device that can Xray the package, he said. jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834