Black Hills students get close-up demo of State Patrol robot

Staff writerOctober 6, 2013 

Talk about a real-life lesson: Students in Black Hills High School’s introduction to robotics class were treated with a high-tech demonstration last week by the Washington State Patrol explosives unit.

“We call him Ralph,” trooper Cliff Pratt told the students as they watched a nearly 400-pound robot inch along asphalt behind their school. “He is a bomb technician.”

Ralph was an instant hit with the kids as troopers used a computer to make the robot roll across the asphalt, lift its mechanical arm and conduct surveillance with its multiple cameras.

The robot has been used in many bomb-threat calls, SWAT team exercises, suspicious-package investigations, hostage situations and explosive-device detonations. It is military grade and designed to carry weapons. It cost about $265,000 and is strong enough to pull an injured officer out of danger, Pratt said.

“Ralph has saved my life twice — literally,” he said.

Pratt pointed out the various parts on the robot and demonstrated how it basically is a large arm and hand on wheels that could perform tasks with the aid of computers. It has speakers, microphones and five cameras and can run on wireless or fiber-optic technology.

“With the right attachments, I can run this robot anywhere from around the world,” Pratt said. “This is pretty much state-of-the-art in the nation. … This thing is meant to get blown up.”

This is the fourth year the Tumwater school has offered a robotics course, said teacher Matt Bell.

During the next few months, students will build much more basic robots with Lego kits — but they also will learn important computer-programming skills to operate them, Bell said.

“We compete in the South Sound STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Robotics Invitational in the spring,” Bell said. “We’ve actually won the competition two of the last three years.”

It’s a class about engineering, computers, teamwork and problem-solving, he added.

Keerthana Madhioli, 16, said she enjoyed the State Patrol’s demonstration.

“It showed us just how powerful robots are,” she said. “They can send a robot in to do a job instead of someone risking their life.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433;

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