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Maine firm’s robot shields SWAT teams

SANFORD, Maine — A ­Waterboro company that has developed high-tech tanks for the military and Hollywood has a new contraption: a ballistic police shield that sits atop a miniature, remote-controlled tank-like vehicle made to protect first responders.

Twin brothers Mike and Geoff Howe said Thursday the ‘‘SWAT robot’’ keeps SWAT teams and other first responders safe while approaching buildings during potentially dangerous standoffs or confrontations with armed suspects. It also can shield police and the public from explosive devices, like the ones set off Monday during the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 170.

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The company, Howe and Howe Technologies Inc., developed the machine with the Massachusetts State Police. It was going to be unveiled in ­Boston this week, but after the bombings, it was introduced ­instead at the Sanford Police Department Thursday.

Police Chief Thomas ­Connolly, who heads a regional tactical police squad that has trained with the device, said the robot can be a valuable tool for police in dangerous situations.

‘‘It can provide police with a huge tactical advantage,’’ he said.

Police nationwide regularly find themselves dealing with standoffs and kidnappings.

Last week, a heavily armed man held firefighters hostage for hours in his suburban ­Atlanta home before the ­Gwinnett County Police SWAT team stormed the house and killed the gunman. No firefighters were hurt.

Gwinnett County Corporal Jake Smith said the SWAT ­robot looks like it would be useful as a safe way to approach a barricaded person. But he did not know how cost-effective it would be with a $98,000 price tag.

Bomb squads use remote-controlled robots to locate and defuse explosive devices. Camera-­equipped robots are used for surveillance to keep ­officers out of harm’s way.

Police have been known to use robots with articulated arms to lift shields in front of windows of houses to protect officers from gunshots fired from inside the home, said Corey Luby of the National ­Tactical Officers Association, a Doylestown, Pa., organization representing patrol and special operations officers.

Police also use armored ­vehicles as shields to get close when hostages are being held or a suspect is barricaded ­inside a structure, he said.

But the SWAT robot, dubbed the ‘‘SWAT Bot,’’ is the first ­robotic device Luby has seen that is designed specifically for ballistic shield purposes.

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