Sandia Labs News Releases

Terrorist, timed scenarios challenge bomb squads at Sandia’s Robot Rodeo

Organizations team for synergistic training event

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bomb squad teams from New Mexico and beyond are converging at Sandia National Laboratories for a five-day Robot Rodeo and Capability Exercise where emergency preparedness skills will be put to the test.

Twelve challenges for 10 military and civilian teams have been set up for the 13th annual event that provides opportunities for training and networking with other experts. The event is put on by Sandia and is free for teams.

“Security and explosives experts get to test and see what works and what doesn’t, so that if they ever have an incident, they are better prepared,” said Sandia robotics manager Jake Deuel.

Media representatives are invited to watch airplane and timed-obstacle scenarios at the 13th Annual Robot Rodeo:
When: 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 15
Where: Meet at the Innovation Parkway Office Complex, 1611 Innovation Parkway SE (near the intersection of Eubank Boulevard and Innovation Parkway), to get a ride to the site.
RSVP: Contact Manette Fisher at 505-844-1742 or by 3 p.m. Tuesday, May 14

Challenges involve transportation, ‘suspect’ devices

Remotec F6 and QinetiQ Talon robots work together during one of the 2018 Robot Rodeo challenges at Sandia National Laboratories. The annual event takes place this week with military and civilian bomb squads participating in 12 scenarios. (Photo by Randy Montoya) Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

It takes more than a year and multiple agencies to pull off the Robot Rodeo. Deuel said he presented a cargo airplane scenario to the Transportation Security Administration in Albuquerque, one of several agencies involved in this year’s event. The organization agreed to send security and explosives specialists to help plan and run the scenario that will involve robots maneuvering through the aircraft.

The Albuquerque International Sunport donated the jet plane, which was formerly used for mail delivery. Sunport representatives said the aircraft is now used for educational purposes and tours.

“We are excited to be able to donate our decommissioned 727 for this year’s Robot Rodeo,” said Stephanie Kitts, Sunport spokesperson. “This event is vitally important to the robotics industry, and we look forward to a continued partnership with Sandia National Labs, Kirtland Air Force Base and the Transportation Security Administration.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology is also participating this year. Inside a hangar near the plane challenge, NIST built structures to run timed scenarios involving maneuvering and robot manipulation challenges, where robots open and close doors, climb and descend stairs and inspect corridors.

The Albuquerque Transit Department joins the Robot Rodeo for the first time, providing a city bus for a mock scenario involving a bomb threat where passengers run, leaving bags and purses behind. Deuel said robots are being used to X-ray items on the bus.

Scenarios are also taking place at Sandia’s 200-foot-tall National Solar Thermal Test Facility with the help of Kirtland Air Force Base. One challenge involves mannequins representing terrorists that were killed while rappelling with explosives inside the tower. Teams attempt to maneuver robots and remove the fake explosives. The other challenge at the tower is inside a tunnel where a mannequin is wrapped in simulated traps.

A couple of scenarios at a Sandia warehouse were coordinated with the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, which is in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and serves as the nation’s repository for the disposal of transuranic nuclear waste. One scenario involves an artificial suspicious device identified during mock loading operations, and the other takes place in a tunnel where teams will use a virtual training system to detect simulated radiation sources.

Deuel said other organizations that pitched in include the Army with a donation of a two-arm robot and several commercial companies that support the bomb-squad community. The multi-organization effort pays off every year, Deuel said. He called this year, “Lucky 13.”

“The Robot Rodeo gives agencies and bomb squads a chance to work together in no-harm, no-foul scenarios,” he added. “There’s great synergy here.”

Teams participating this year include Kirtland Air Force Base Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, Albuquerque Police Department, Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office, New Mexico State Police, two Navy EOD Teams, Fort Carson Army Base EOD Battalion, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Police, Riverside County Sheriff’s Office from California, and the 21st U.S. Army EOD group.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multimission laboratory operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Sandia Labs has major research and development responsibilities in nuclear deterrence, global security, defense, energy technologies and economic competitiveness, with main facilities in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Livermore, California.

Sandia news media contact: Manette Fisher,, 505-844-1742