JOLIET – The police department had a unique second-semester project for a small group of high school students – rebuild Robocop.
The MARCbot IV-N was originally used by the military for examining improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan. It wasn’t working when the Joliet Police Department obtained it as free surplus last year.
SWAT team officers Matt Breen and Chris Gombosi were optimistic they could get it working until the casing was opened.
“It was well above our technical level, but I’d read about the Joliet West Robotics Club in The Herald-News and wondered if they could take a look at it,” Gombosi said.
Teacher John Barber thought the task would be ideal for some students in the Science Technology Engineering and Math Academy to use as a service learning project. Seniors Shane McCarthy and Jeremy Rateike, junior Dyllan Potter and sophomores Jake Blaauw and Collin Mardian began their robot repair in December.
McCarthy figured out the gear pattern and how the electric servomechanism moved. Potter opened the gearbox while Rateike contacted companies for parts. Many parts were donated to the project and boreholes were machined at no charge.
“Our only cost has been replacing one 20-cent screw that we stripped out,” Barber said.
“There was a lot of trial and error,” Mardian said. “[Checking] if something didn’t fit, the shaft couplings are aluminum, so you can’t crank them tight or they’ll crack.”
But last week, Breen, Gombosi and SWAT Team Commander Dwayne Killian met with the students and learned to use the old Xbox video game controller that moves the robot.
The controller attaches to a laptop computer linked to the robot with an antenna that can pick up signals for a substantial distance.
“At least all the way down the halls of the school,” Barber told Killian.
The robot, which sold for about $10,000 when it was new, weighs less than 40 pounds and has four oversized tires for traveling over rough terrain. A camera is mounted on an arm that can extend to about three feet in height to look inside a window, or lower down to inspect under a truck. The camera has night vision, GPS and recording capabilities.
It will not be used for bomb inspection, but will likely be used if the SWAT team is called out. The robot could take pictures or bring a cellphone so officers can communicate with a barricaded subject. The SWAT team has used a small treaded machine with a loudspeaker at previous calls.
“If there’s an incident at a house we want to see around all four sides of it when we get there,” Killian said. “Now this can drive around and if it gets shot at or bit, I really don’t care.”
The students, who worked on the project during computer repair class and after school, were pleased to see their skills will now be put into real-world action. Previous robots have been entered in school competitions.
“I enjoy RC [remote control] cars. Getting this to [move by remote] was better to see,” Mardian said.