Sandia Labs News Releases

Annual Robot Rodeo offers bomb squads an unbeatable experience

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sandia National Laboratories is hosting the 11th annual Western National Robot Rodeo, a thrilling four-day event where civilian and military bomb squad teams get practice using robots to defuse diverse, dangerous situations.

Robot picks up radiation detector during 2015 Robot Rodeo

2015 Robot Rodeo: Bomb squads from across the country saddled up their robots and duked it out at the ninth annual Western National Robot Rodeo at Sandia National Laboratories. (Photo by Randy Montoya) Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

Robots are life-saving tools for these emergency response teams, providing them a buffer from danger. Ten teams from around the region will compete in 10 events to see who can use their robots the quickest and safest in realistic, simulated scenarios. The top three teams will receive trophies, but the bomb squads are mostly after bragging rights, said Jake Deuel, Sandia robotics manager and Robot Rodeo coordinator.

“The teams are usually frustrated with us by the second scenario, and that’s a good sign that we’ve developed challenging scenarios. If it’s easy, it’s a waste of their time,” said Deuel. “The whole point of the Robot Rodeo is to help these guys and gals understand where the operational edge of their equipment and procedures are, so that they don’t go over that edge during a real life call.”

Here’s the details for media representatives who would like to attend the 11th Annual Robot Rodeo:
10 a.m. Tuesday, May 23
Where: Innovation Parkway Office Complex, 1611 Innovation Parkway SE (near the intersection of Eubank Boulevard and Innovation Parkway)
RSVP: Contact Mollie Rappe at (505) 844-8220 or by 3 p.m. Monday, May 22, to attend.

Scenarios from previous years include removing a mock explosive device from an airplane or train car, removing simulated fuel rods from a damaged nuclear power reactor, and locating and removing radiation sources from a mock village. In 2015, the bomb squads collaborated with an unmanned aerial vehicle, colloquially known as a drone. The UAV provided situational awareness and oversight for the ground robotic team, allowing them to locate and inspect suspicious items faster and more efficiently.

Sandia's Gemini-Scout Mine Rescue Robot

Sandia National Laboratories’ Gemini-Scout Mine Rescue Robot is equipped to handle any number of obstacles, including rubble piles and flooded rooms, to help rescuers reach trapped miners safely and efficiently. (Photo by Randy Montoya) Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

Sandia works with Los Alamos National Laboratory to put on the annual competition. This year instructors from the FBI’s Hazardous Devices School also will run several of the training sessions and events. In addition, one of the scenarios this year will involve locating a mock “radioactive” liquid leak and mitigating it, perhaps with a robotic bucket brigade.

“We keep coming back to the Robot Rodeo because it’s a training opportunity that really pushes our skill set with the robots,” said Sgt. Carlos Gallegos, commander of the Albuquerque Police Department’s bomb squad, whose team has attended the rodeo every year and won twice. “We appreciate Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories for taking the time to put on such a beneficial week for the local bomb squads.”

Teams scheduled to participate this year include Kirtland Air Force Base Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team – the defending champions – Albuquerque Police Department, Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office, Los Alamos Police Department, New Mexico State Police, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base EOD Team, Fort Carson Army Base EOD Battalion, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Police, Riverside County Sheriff’s Office from California, and another 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 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: Mollie Rappe,, (505) 844-8220