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It was 15 years ago this past Sunday that two students went on a shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., that left a dozen students and a teacher dead.
Since then, school shootings elsewhere have become known by the city’s name in which they occurred: Sparks, Nev.; Blacksburg, Va.; Chardon, Ohio; Red Lake, Minn.; Nickel Mines, Penn.; and Newtown, Conn.
Clemson University researchers want to develop their own version of RoboCop to disarm suspected school shooters before police arrive on the scene.
“This will save lives,” said Dr. Juan Gilbert, presidential endowed professor and chairman of Clemson’s human-centered computing division.
Boo B. Trap, the remote-controlled robot, would be bulletproof and come equipped with a punching mechanism and electroshock weapon.
The robot would remain locked in school storage rooms until a staff member or teacher pressed a panic button to alert police. Officers would then remotely activate the robot to debilitate the suspect.
Boo B. Trap wouldn’t be law enforcement’s first remote-controlled device. Robots have long been used by law enforcement to disarm bombs and maneuver reconnaissance cameras into dangerous situations.
The robot would not have a firearm, so Gilbert sees it as a way to stop gun violence in schools without wading into the debate about gun control.
Officers would control the robot from an off-site control room while others responded to the scene. The robot would have three cameras – one on the top, one in the center and the last in the bottom – to give officers controlling it a 360-degree view.
Verizon is providing network services over its 4G LTE wireless network for the project. Clemson researchers will work alongside Verizon engineers to ensure that developments are compatible with the network.
“This is an exciting opportunity to use our advanced 4G LTE network to encourage innovation that can help provide for the safety of our children,” said David Owen, associate director of strategic sales at Verizon Wireless.
Gilbert said Boo B. Trap could be in schools within three years, depending on how aggressively industry adopts the idea.
Researchers are searching for funding for the project they call Project Hero.
Questions that remain unanswered include how many robots to build, how many operators each robot will need and how it will move, including whether it will be able to fly.
If the robot were accessed by an unauthorized person, authorities would be able to override it.
“It’s not autonomous, or even semi-autonomous,” Gilbert said. “It can’t do anything on its own. There’s an operator controlling this 100 percent.”
The robot’s punching mechanism would be similar to self-powered battering rams used by law enforcement. It could be deployed to open doors.
The electroshock weapon would be a non-lethal stun gun. As research moves forward, remote sensing and targeting will be investigated to ensure bystanders are not jeopardized.
Gilbert said Boo B. Trap could provide a learning opportunity as well. There’s potential for students across the country to work on Boo B. Trap and competitions to see which team can capture a target first. The robots could also get students interested in robotics, computers and engineering.
“The way we see it, this creates a new job market,” Gilbert said. “Imagine a kid growing up and saying, ‘I want to be a Project Hero operator.’”