Robot encounters a suicidal man, and helps in diffusing the tension with pizza!


On 13th April, the Silicon Valley freeway overpass was the scene of a 5 hour long standoff which involved both a suicidal man and a robot. Fortunately, the outcome was resolved without any further issue – thanks to the timely utilization of the aforementioned Northrup Grumman Remotec Andros F6A, a remote-controlled robotic mechanism generally used for bomb disposal. The dramatic incident started when at 1 pm, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) was notified of a man precariously standing on an overpass that connects Highway 680 and Highway 280 in San Jose. To make things worse, the subject was reportedly armed with a knife and was ready to jump off from the elevated ground. So, even when an officer made contact with him, the cop had to back off on noticing the knife.

The situation was still kept under control, with CHP being able to cordon off the area at Highway 101 (that did however cause a rush hour traffic jam). And then the MERGE unit was called to action for advanced negotiation tactics. As a result, the cops and the negotiators were able to position themselves 150 yards to either side of the subject; but the incident was still turning out to be a stalemate. One of the reasons being that the negotiators were not able to effectively communicate with the suicidal man over this distance (except via the inefficient and loud PA systems), while they were also loath to approach the man since he was armed and potentially dangerous.

Finally, the negotiators decided on an ingenious ploy, and that involved the assistance of a robot. So, the team utilized a Remotec Andros F6A for making a conciliatory approach to the man. And, they aptly ‘fitted’ the military robot with a phone and a pizza, instead of needless weapons. According to Chris Sciba, a sergeant with the San Jose Police Department (as told to Spectrum IEEE)-

[Because] delivering food is a way of encouraging someone to do something we want them to do, we sent pizza with phone. We [instructed the subject] that if he wanted the pizza released, to pick up the phone. The robot was holding the pizza, it released the pizza once the subject picked up phone to talk to negotiators.

The cops also made use of the Andros F6A’s four cameras (along with audio and speaker systems) to inspect the man thoroughly. This helped them to observe his facial expressions, thus giving them leverage to act in accordance with the behavioral tendencies of the subject. And finally, to their credit, the negotiators were able to calm the suicidal subject, and then talk him out of his perilous stance (over the phone). In fact, the ploy entailing the robot and the pizza was so successful that the man himself walked up to the cops and voluntarily gave himself up. As for the effectiveness in terms of time, the peaceful surrendering came after less than an hour the San Jose ‘robocop’ was involved in the process – while the entire phase of the standoff went beyond 5 hours.


Source: SpectrumIEEE

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