Digital Version of November/December 2014 Print Edition
General Robotics’ Ferret under-vehicle robot-camera deployed at RNC
General Robotics, a subsidiary of Panoscan, Inc., of Van Nuys, CA, joined the many vendors of security technologies and systems at last week’s Republican national convention in Tampa, FL, when it deployed its Ferret robotic camera in a collaborative effort with the Tampa Bay Regional EOD response team.
The Ferret is a 4-inch high circular robot that is used for under-vehicle surveillance, according to Panoscan partner Casey Coss, who explained that prior to using the Ferret, the authorities were limited to conducting under-vehicle inspections for bombs and explosives using a stick and mirror, or by driving vehicles over fixed digital scanning ramps, in which case the cameras only provide a flat image and cannot be moved around. He said the Ferret provides an interesting solution for scanning suspicious cars, including cars in a parking lot without a driver.
In one application of the Ferret’s capabilities at the RNC, said Coss, the Secret Service used the robotic camera for under-vehicle scanning of buses that transported delegates to the convention from nearby parking lots. As the buses arrived, they were checked by a large mobile X-ray system called a Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System (VACIS), after which they proceeded to a different location where the canines would sniff them. If a dog detects something, it is trained to sit, signaling security personnel that further investigation is needed. At this point, the Ferret would be deployed to scan underneath the bus.
According to Coss, there was one occasion at the RNC where a dog sat down and the Ferret was deployed, leading the authorities to divert the bus to another location. But that turned out to be a false alarm.
Coss said that the Ferret has been field tested by the New York Police Department’s bomb squad, which determined that it could be used successfully to take a “first look” at a suspicious vehicle, to see if there is a need to send in a bigger Remotec robot. With the use of routers through the Internet or via satellite, Coss pointed out, police officials can see the video at the same time as the equipment operator.
The NYPD also uses the company’s Panoscan MK-3, a larger scanning camera that is used to create panoramic crime scene images which can be produced in three to five minutes, depending on available light, and which can be added to a database where detectives can access them. The resulting images from a Panosan camera provide investigators with a way to study and analyze photos of the entire crime scene.
The company’s collaboration with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office began about a year ago at the IABTI “Bomb Tech” show, where Coss met Corporal Darrel Kandil, head of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s bomb squad. The Ferret was also used to assist the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Tampa Port Authority, along with Customs and Border Protection during the Visible intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) that included teams of uniformed and covert air marshals and other security personnel. Corporal Kandil said that the sheriff’s office is considering a purchase of the Ferret for the Port of Tampa, because the port could use it to scan trucks and other vehicles.
In explaining some of the features and benefits of the Ferret in bomb and explosive detection, Coss indicated that while in-ground scanners can only look up, the camera on a Ferret is on a 90-degree arc. It can go from 90 degrees forward to 90 degrees up. Thus it has an advantage over the “stick and mirror” technology because it can look straight up into the wheel wells, and can back up and angle over the drive trains, enabling the operator to look at a vehicle from any angle.
The basic stand-off range is 100 meters, but with a long-range antenna this increases to 300 meters. The Ferret also uses video transmission that is completely wireless. Since it has no wires, it can go anywhere, including through puddles and rain, with no problem. Coss indicated that the Ferret has a polycarbonate cover, made of the same material as a football or motorcycle helmet. It is strong enough for a 240-pound man to stand on it, and it has two control sticks, one for moving the Ferret and the other for maneuvering the camera.
In addition to the discussions with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Coss said his company has demonstrated the Ferret for Fort Meade, where the fire marshal asked about mounting a thermal camera on the Ferret for use in approaching burning buildings, a task that the company determined the Ferret could be modified to handle.
In a related story, Coss informed GSN that the company’s Panoscan camera, which is used by the NYPD to capture crime scenes, was deployed to capture a crime scene image at the recent shooting incident in front the New York City’s Empire State Building, in which an unemployed clothing designer shot and killed a former co-worker, and was shot and killed seconds later in a hail of bullets from New York City police officers.