Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Marrying Robots

I was over at the Dwarf's site yesterday, looking at some of his recommended blogs. I surfed over to Bayou Renaissance Man's internet abode, when I came across this post. For those of you too lazy click a link, the post gives another link that leads to a story about an EOD tech that got really attached to his robot, Scooby Doo. Peter (Bayou Renaissance Man) asked his readers if anyone had any experience with EOD doing this type of thing to robots. Well, being a veteran of Iraq and EOD, I had to comment. The answer is, "Yes, of course we do." As I said in my comment over there, the robot is a member of our team. Sure, it's only a piece of equipment, but we do tend to get attached. It's the piece of equipment that I can point to and definitively say that it saved my life. Arguably, any equipment that does its job in combat has the potential to save lives. But our bots, now there are machines that do it directly. Let me put it this way: for every robot that "dies" in the direct line of duty, there are lives saved. For every robot blown up by the bad guys, that's one less human tech to get the same thing, one less EOD wife becoming an EOD widow. As I said in that comment, I have had 4 robots go down like that while I was operating them. That's 4 times that my wife, or the wives of my team members/team leader, didn't have to receive a folded flag from an NCO or Officer. So, yeah, we tend to get attached, which tends to lead to anthropomorphizing our robots. As I mentioned in the comment, we would name them, track and record their "personalities" (I swear, dude, that bot is evil! Let's turn it in and draw another....), even keep track of them after we turn them over to replacing teams.

Well, Peter must have liked my comment, for after I posted it, he came out with this rebuttal, in which he asks me to tell some stories about robots. Well, Peter, okay. You asked for it. Here goes.

The first one is about one of the few bots that we had that we had actually named. Her name was Christine. She was a Talon robot (I'm too lazy to add a hyperlink here with a photo. Look it up yourself.) We inherited her from the team that we replaced in the area, and it was them that had named her. "Christine?" we asked. "Like the car?" "Exactly like the car," they said. "She's got a mind of her own, and she can be fickle." "Sure she can," we said, raising eyebrows of dubiousness. Well, we were to eat those words. A short time after that, we were using her to do a little demonstration in our compound for a visiting Colonel, who also happened to be the FOB commander, and the commander of the brigade we were supporting. Well Christine was doing fine, and the Colonel seamed pleased with what we had shown him thus far. Until Christine decided that she really REALLY liked the Colonel, especially his leg. Because she took off on her own, ignoring our commands from the control box, and climbed his leg. Now, Talons are machines with large-ish tracks weighing 90 pounds or more, so climbing people could be dangerous for the person being climbed. Luckily, the Colonel saw us trying to prevent the incident, and he wasn't hurt, so he never said another word about it. We took Christine to the robot shop on Camp Vicotry, who looked her over and told us nothing was wrong with her (in fact, they rather impolitely told us that the problems we were describing were impossible). She was returned to service. One day, not long later, (mind you, we had used her with no problems in the interim) we were working, and we sent Christine down on a suspect item. Well, she started going fine, but then she must have decided that there was something that she didn't like down range, for she turned about 45 degrees out of true, and took off like a shot. Full speed, even though I had the speed knob most of the way down. So, about 15 miles an hour or so. Right into a wall. Which she tried to climb. She ended up flipping over. Even then, her tracks kept spinning as fast as they could. Before she got to the wall and terminated her flight prematurely, I tried everything I could to stop her. Nothing worked. She ignored my commands, and even kept going when I switched off the control unit, which should throw the tracks into full stop. Should, but didn't. As I said, she ended up up-side-down, futilely spinning her tracks in the air, kind of like a dying cockroach. Well, we couldn't get her right away (she was too far down range by this time, and I'm not excited about going out there before I can clear it), so we sent the spare bot, a Packbot (again, look it up yourself). Well, as the packbot got to the item, I moved to brush some trash away with the grippers, and the item detonated, killing the poor Packbot. Maybe Christine sensed what was coming and just didn't want to die? Anyways, we took her back to the robot shop. Now, for those that have been to Camp Victory, they know that there are several lakes there. Well, the robot shop was on the shores of one of the larger and deeper ones. We pulled her out of the truck and explained the problem. Again, we were told that this was impossible. The civilian robotics specialist knelt next to her, attached her battery, and turned her on. She made him eat his words with a side of humble pie. As she took off, again like a hyperactive monkey out of a box, she took a chunk of his thumb with her. Straight across the street, up the berm separating the lake from the road (which was shaped, conveniently, like one of Knievel's launch ramps), about five feet into the air, coming down with a large splash into the lake. "Well," said the tech-rep, as he was trying to stop his thumb from bleeding, "I guess we'll get you a new bot." As a side note, when the diver that they sent after her had found her, she was another 25 meters from where she touched down, bogged in weeds. Apparently, she had kept up her flight across the bottom before getting stuck and dying. Like I say, personalities.

Now, the second and final robot story (for this post) is the one that Peter specifically asked for. On my second deployment, we had a commander that, as we put it then, bent over backward to get us bent over forward. Use your imagination. Suffice it to say that he wasn't very good, and never seemed to be looking out for us, just what other people in the area thought of him. Anyways, he had come over to the base that we were at (we were "fragged out" meaning we were separate from the rest of the company). He made the trip just to break the bad news that he couldn't get us the 4 day passes to Qatar that the rest of the company was getting, which we had also been promised. Sorry. *coughs* A**hole *coughs*. Anyways, after he had told us that, my team member and I had to go make sure the robots were still checking out (something we did everyday). It was the wet season, therefore very muddy, and since part of checking the bots is to clean them, we figured doing it in the mud was dumb. So we brought them in. Now, we had a multi-purpose room. It was part day room, part evidence room. Being our day room, it's where we kept stuff that people would send us in packages, like toys to pass out to kids. Being our evidence room, it's also where we kept things like white construction paper, for the background of photos. Anyway, we were done with checking the bots and were now just kind of messing around. There was a stuffed bear that was a bride bear, it had a veil and bouquet and everything. I grabbed the bouquet and put it in the grippers of the packbot, and put the veil over the main camera. We started laughing like Beevis and Butthead (mature, I know). Well, not to be outdone, my team member grabbed a sheet of construction paper and used electrical tape to make it a top hat. With the black tape, it looked like a white hat with a black band, very snazzy. This he put on to the Talon's main camera. Still giggling like little boys, we positioned several of the other bears as if they were attending a wedding. We controlled our laughing long enough for us to assume somber looks. "Deeeeearly Beloved," my team member, who was standing in the place of the "minister" said. It was then that we heard the door open. We also heard the sound of someone coming to a literal screeching halt on the tile floor. We turned and saw our douchebag commander. He looked at us, we looked at him, he looked at the bots, blinked, performed a perfect about-face, and left, slamming the door. Not long after that, we were all called back in to talk to the CO again. "Well," he told us," I made a few calls and I got your passes to Qatar back. You two," he pointed at my team member and myself, "are going first." And that is how anthropomorphizing robots got me a 4 day pass in Qatar.


  1. Thanks for writing,I enjoyed the story.

  2. Great stories, and yes ANY man made object CAN have a personality... BTDT, except with an airplane...

  3. I lauged so hard I gave myself a nosebleed.

  4. Nice tales, and oh so accurate.

    I was never a Talon fan anyways...

    Welcome to the blog world, former military & current civilian bomb guy here myself. Look forward to hearing more from your adventures.