Robot negotiates with mentally ill man who threatened White House (UPDATED)


Here in Los Angeles, local news channels have been locked on a chase and subsequent standoff between police and a mentally ill man accused of making threats on the White House. The LAPD have him cornered at the Federal Building. I was just in the area (for other reasons) -- traffic's a mess, streets are blocked off, law enforcement all over the place.

The LAPD bomb squad is using a remote-controlled robot to coax the suspect out of his Volkswagen beetle. This device is operated by a human, and is not autonomous -- sort of a humanoid drone, a machine proxy for a human negotiator. You can see it in the photo above, from the Daily Breeze. I wonder if anyone knows more about the particular robot/ROV/whatever they're using?

At least four police cruisers blocked the red Volkswagen Beetle in the driveway of a parking lot on Veteran Avenue just south of Wilshire Boulevard. Officers stood nearby with their guns pointed at the vehicle, and a police robot wheeled its way next to the driver's side door as the standoff continued. A military-style armored vehicle was also brought to the scene and was parked near the vehicle.


Update: Anonymous says,

That particular piece of equipment is a Remotec (a subsidiary of Northrop-Grumman) model F-6A by the looks of it. It has 3 cameras, a microphone and a speaker. It can be operated remotely by a fiber optic tether or by radio waves. It is used by Law enforcement and the Military typically in bomb disposal operations. The use in hostage situations is not unprecedented however.
Above, a photo of the Northrop-Grumman/Remotec ANDROS F6A with Window Breaker and Dual PAN Disrupter mount. On the product page, the manufacturer refers to it as a "robot," so all of you arguing in the comments that this is an improper term can simmer down now, please. More photos of an ANDROS equipped with a gun and window-basher, and live video stream of today's human/robot standoff, after the jump.

here's the Daily Breeze, here's KTLA, LA Times.

Image: ANDROS F6A on toes with SL6 shotgun and mount.




  1. It makes sense, to have a robot roll up to do the talking. It gives everyone distance and time, as opposed to rushing things, making hair-trigger shootouts probable.
    But then, I’m looking forward to our robot overlords, myself…

  2. So who determined that this man was “mentally ill”? That is the sort of bullshit cops tell reporters just in case one of them blows the suspect away prematurely.

  3. Ahhhh yes. Nothing like the tender caress of a military robot coaxing you out of your car to ease the disposition of the mentally ill.

    I’m sure he’ll settle right down.

  4. @#3- I’d interpret it the other way, myself– if he’s mentally ill, you go negotiate with him and try to talk him down. If he’s not mentally ill, you’d probably just go ahead and shoot the son of a bitch.

    Besides, he decided to make threats against the White House…from LA. Picture of sanity?

  5. @#3, neighbor and relatives told news reporters he was depressed, on psychological medications. Has mental problems.

  6. Auugg.. even better.

    Look Dave, I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.

  7. It’s not a robot. It’s a remotely operated vehicle or “ROV.” Like a big model car with a remote-controlled arm on top and a cop on the other end, and unlike, say, WALL-E. Normally I let this sort of thing slide, but geez, it’s Boing Boing and the mistake is embarrassing. Ref

  8. a mentally ill man accused of making threats on the White House

    Too much AM radio will do that to you.

  9. I just watched with complete fascination the live feed from the news copter, from the beanbag shooting out the guy’s window, to them dragging him out (despite the cloud cover) and then undressing the dude and hosing him down before loading him into an ambulance. (Frankly, it looked like he soiled himself, which is why they had to hose him off.)

    You folks out in LA are probably desensitized to it, but we just don’t get that kind of news coverage here in the DC area. Someone really needs to make a cable channel that features nothing but live video feeds from news copters of police chases, 24/7. I’d watch it.

  10. Should it be viewed as a good or bad sign that the cops have sent a military robot to “negotiate” with you?

  11. Someone really needs to make a cable channel that features nothing but live video feeds from news copters of police chases, 24/7. I’d watch it.

    I thought that was SpikeTV’s entire game plan? Well, that and Most Extreme Elimination Challenge. And “Girls Gone Wild” ads.

  12. It’s Southern California. Driving a VW instead of a Benz or a Jaguar is prima facie evidence of mental illness.

  13. The best way to negotiate with the mentally ill: with government robots controlled by law enforcement agents who want to arrest you.

    It is actually a good tactic for many reasons — keeps the situation more calm, no risk to the negotiator, less risk to the person in question — but perhaps not such a good idea on the enabling-paranoid-delusions-for-paranoids-everywhere aspect: “Did you hear about the guy who questioned the White House and Obama sent one of his Obama-bots to take him away? They’ve been trying to find me too, but this protective layer of baked beans means they can’t see me. Shhh, don’t tell anyone!”

  14. Anyone share my pet peeve of calling these and similar things “robots”? That is not a robot. A robot, after being programed, operates autonomously. This thing is remotely human controlled. It’s a waldo.

  15. Someone really needs to make a cable channel that features nothing but live video feeds from news copters of police chases, 24/7. I’d watch it.

    That’s basically what TV news is l like in LA.

    Sneeze too loudly in your car and four helicopters are on the scene in moments.

  16. Oh that’s right! Send a freaky looking sci-fi escapee out to negotiate with an already mentally unstable individual.

    That should really have a positive effect on his sanity. What the hell happened to loud-hailers and flashbangs?

  17. That particular piece of equipment is a Remotec (a subsidiary of Northrup-Gruman) F-6A by the looks of it. It has 3 cameras, a microphone and a speaker. It can be operated remotely by a fiber optic tether or by radio waves. It is used by Law enforcement and the Military typically in bomb disposal operations. The use in hostage situations is not unprecedented however.

  18. They sent a remote controlled bot in to talk at the crazy man?

    It’s a damn shame they can’t target sonic waves and vibrate his cheek bones so it would sound like voices in his head or use weak lasers on his retina to make him see things.

    Holy shit LAPD, you guys are awful.

  19. it’s not really much different than the old tactic of throwing a telephone into a hostage situation to establish contact. Functionally. Emotionally, it’s a disaster.

  20. Hey, that ROV has an arm with a hand, right? So that means it could hold a Tazer! These cops are on to something!

  21. Look at some of the definitions listed on Wikipedia (and the original sources, if you don’t want to trust Wiki.)

    Northrop Grumman is wrong, it is as simple as that. They can use a diluted, inaccurate use of the word “robot” to appeal to an ignorant audience if they wish, but it does not make the term correct. If something is under the direct control of a human operator, it is not a robot.

  22. Hey Darren, I’m pretty sure that when you’re holed up in your car after being chased by the cops for threatening the white house because you’re mentally ill, and that thing knocks on the door and says it wants to talk, you’d call it a robot.

  23. “That particular piece of equipment is a Remotec (a subsidiary of Northrup-Gruman)…”

    It’s Northrop-Grumman.

    Jack Northrop (RIP) deserves to have his name spelled correctly. He was the kind of personality and influence on his industry that (many) Boingers would appreciate.

  24. Xeni, how would the reactionary weapons dealers at Northrop Grumman likely call a young, intelligent, vibrant and independent woman like you? They’re hardly a standard to copy.

  25. I think the point Jewels is making – the vast majority of people with `mental illness’ are normal people who have an illness, although it’s a common prejudice that all people who have a mental illness are dangerous and unpredictable. Saying `guy with mental illness…’ could be telling us about social prejudices, as much as relating the facts?

  26. To expand on Danegeld’s point, people with severe mental illness such as schizophrenia on average are involved in fewer violent crimes than people without mental illness. The exception to this is people with schizophrenia with paranoid thoughts that others are trying to hurt them. They are involved in a slightly higher percentage of violent crime than the general population.

  27. @40- Or we just consider lack of predictability to be threatening in and of itself. Having an awkward conversation is more frightening to some people than a predictable bit of actual violence. Go figure.
    But anyhow, calling him mentally ill on the news at least serves to reassure viewers that it wasn’t a terrorist making threats against the White House, or a disgruntled federal employee. There are only so many types of people who make the news, after all, and it’s good to go ahead and classify ’em as soon as possible.

  28. #18

    When I read the headline all I could think was:


    (But if I saw ED approach my car I’d probably soil myself as well.)

  29. So – Roboteers… how do you feel about New Scientists use of the term “robot” to describe this: (‘scuse the lack of embedded link.)

    It’s a few posts down, and the video clearly shows a guy with a remote control.

    I think the term robot is widely misused, which doesn’t make it right per se, but a certain point definitions become sort of moot when popular usage starts to dictate a different or broader one.

    All this aside, no one likes a pedant. It’s why I’m so unpopular.

  30. @J France

    Did they actually call that a robot? I thought they called it a “Nano Air Vehicle”, which is even worse, as several posters pointed out there is no way that thing is “nano” in any sense other than in comparison to an ipod, and even in that case its very BIG.

  31. how to defeat pack-bot types? Toss a coat or blanket over the sensors? Where to direct fire? Vulnerable points? Are they submersible? How much do they weigh? Just pick it up and hang it off the floor? Can you short the internals with house current? Spray paint the lenses? What’s the best immobilizing position to pin it in? Signal range? Faraday shielding to cut control ( a copper mesh net?) Battery life? Temperature tolerance? It cant’t climb a rope or a ladder? Do they have bomb carrying models? Is there a gas-weapon version?

  32. What I’m waiting for is for someone to come up with a way to hijack and take over our massive armies of drones, ROVs, and suchlike that will soon comprise our armies and police forces. Then the fun will really start.

  33. semi-autonomous robot

    a telefactor that will be started by a human operator and released to kill you on its own decision/opportunity.

  34. @51 “a way to hijack and take over our massive armies of drones, ROVs, and suchlike”

    Hijack implies, to me, taking control of mobile machine by compelling their live human onboard operators to do your will, and Hack implies, to me, taking control of or interfering with static computers from a distance.

    So is a composite term like “hackjack” doing any work at the moment? Maybe it could be deployed for use when illicitly taking over control of mobile machines, whether individually or in their masses.

  35. I know it well. I’ve designed a lot EOD (explosive ordinance disposal)vehicles that carry one, and the robot often costs more than the truck! It has a lot of available options. Calling the machine gun a ‘disruptor’ cracks me up. Yeah, that’s disrupting all right!

  36. Takuan@49: John Connor will teach us how to smash them.

    (I thought it was about time for a Terminator reference in such a Robocop-heavy thread.)

  37. MDH 37: don’t taze me, bro(bot)!

    Ooo, Brobots! That’s for when you have no one to watch football with, right? Or go out for a beer and complain about women, or whatever!

    That’s a million-dollar idea, MDH. Good on ya.

  38. Hours long standoff & full media coverage.

    For our little robot buddy and his manufacturers, this type of PR is priceless. Clearly robots (overloads) are for the benefit of us all.

  39. Northrop Grumman is wrong, it is as simple as that. They can use a diluted, inaccurate use of the word “robot” to appeal to an ignorant audience if they wish, but it does not make the term correct.

    Hey now, it worked out just fine for Rudy Rucker when he did exactly that with “alive” and “sentinent”, didn´t it?

    Words mean whatever they are used communicate at the moment.

  40. It seems like there is an opportunity for sombody to develop a product here.

    Why not make a smaller, less expensive machine that only has a mic and speakers for standoff situations? You could loose all the manipulators and armor plating, and if the dude your negotiating with decides to attack the “robot”, then your only out a few hundred dollars instead of several thousand.

    You could market them to police departments that have smaller budgets.

  41. 1. a. One of the mechanical men and women in Capek’s play; hence, a machine (sometimes resembling a human being in appearance) designed to function in place of a living agent, esp. one which carries out a variety of tasks automatically or with a minimum of external impulse.
    1923 P. SELVER tr. Capek’s R.U.R. 28 You see..the Robots have no interest in life. They have no enjoyments. 1923 Times 9 June 10/5 If Almighty God had populated the world with Robots, legislation of this sort might have been reasonable. 1928 Daily News & Westm. Gaz. 20 Apr. 11/4 The latest..Rotary Press, a veritable Robot in the complicated work it performs night after night without hitch. 1937 Spectator 23 Apr. 758/1 Men who will go to their doom with the unswerving directness of robots. 1942, etc. [see ROBOTIC n. 1]. 1945 Sun (Baltimore) 9 Feb. 6-O/2 A robot, which never forgets, will do the job. 1958 [see ANDROID]. 1969 I. & P. OPIE Children’s Games xii. 340 ‘They pretend to be robots gone mad,’ reports a headmaster. 1976 Sci. Amer. Feb. 77 (caption) Spot-welding robots..are used in assembling the under~bodies of Chevrolet Novas. 1979 Daily Tel. 7 Nov. 6/8 The British Robot Association believes between 6,000 and 7,000 robots were in use world-wide in industry last year. 1980 Times 1 July 19/5 A real robot is programmable; it can be programmed to perform different, and changing tasks. In 1978 Japan put 1,100 playback or programmable robots into its factories.

    b. A person whose work or activities are entirely mechanical; an automaton.
    1923 Westm. Gaz. 22 June 7/5 Mr. G. Bernard Shaw defined Robots as persons all of whose activities were imposed on them. 1926 C. E. M. JOAD Babbitt Warren 82 Robots live by standardization. 1929 C. CONNOLLY Let. in Romantic Friendship (1975) 325 America is..a great youthful boisterous robot. 1943 J. B. PRIESTLEY Daylight on Saturday ix. 55, I thought it would be better having a fairly intelligent..girl instead of one of these little office robots. 1977 G. W. H. LAMPE God as Spirit ii. 51 The person who is ‘seized’ by the Spirit is thought of as a passive object, temporarily reduced to the status of a robot.

    c. Chiefly S. Afr. An automatic traffic-signal.
    1931 Even. Standard 5 Aug. 2/1 (heading) Traffic ‘Robots’ in the City. 1939 Forum (Johannesburg) 4 Feb. 35/1 The Daily Dispatch, East London, is critical of a proposal to fix robots in the town’s streets. 1948 H. V. MORTON In Search of S. Afr. 17 Another word used in South Africa, but long discontinued in England, is robot for traffic lights. 1958 Johannesburg Star 16 Dec. 6/7 Johannesburg drivers..want to turn right or left while pedestrians, with the robot in their favour, are crossing. 1969 A. FUGARD Boesman & Lena II. 38 When the robot said ‘Go’ there at Berry’s Corner I was nearly bang in my broek. 1974 Eastern Province Herald 2 Oct. 9 Vandals removed the lamps from seven traffic robots and the flashing head from a warning pole.

    d. A robot bomb. temporary.
    1944 Daily Tel. 11 July 1/5 Many of the robots launched against England on Sunday night finished up in the sea. 1944 J. LEES-MILNE Prophesying Peace (1977) 86 From here Jamesy saw his first robot.

    2. attrib. and Comb., as robot army, astronaut, -brain, clerk, -land, -maker, masses, (petrol) station, -pilot, satellite, system, type, -worker; robot-controlled, -like (also adv.), -run adjs.; robot bomb = flying bomb s.v. FLYING vbl. n. 3; robot plane, (a) = queen bee s.v. QUEEN n. 14; (b) = robot bomb; robot roost, a place for the storage of robot bombs; robot teacher, an electronic teaching aid; robot train, a robot-controlled underground train.
    1927 Morning Post 20 Aug. 9 (heading) Robot army ‘gassed’. 1961 Daily Tel. 14 Sept. 1/4 Technicians at Cape Canaveral, Florida, successfully sent a Project Mercury space capsule carrying a robot astronaut and recovered it from the Atlantic. 1944 Sun (Baltimore) 20 June 9/1 Most military authorities here are generally agreed that the robot bomb or plane is of..little military value. 1944 N.Y. Times 25 June 4E/1 (heading) Germans’ robot bomb is a potential menace. 1945 G. MILLAR Maquis xiv. 292 A false report that a certain factory there was making parts for the robot bombs that the Germans had begun to send to London. 1951 KOESTLER Age of Longing I. viii. 140 The ancient Neanderthaler with a modern robot-brain. 1954 Britannica Bk. of Year 637/2 Radar-Brain, a device used to guide supersonic missiles from the ground, and Robot-Brain, a similar apparatus built into the missile. 1928 Daily Express 8 June 3/2 A new automatic selling machine, described as the ‘Robot clerk’, which will say ‘Thank you’ and give change, will replace the present automatic machines. 1964 Ann. Reg. 1963 394 London transport had also developed a robot-controlled underground train. 1960 KOESTLER Lotus & Robot II. vi. 173 The robotland reflected in the mirror makes us shudder. 1927 N.Y. Times 7 Mar. 16 An iron Robotlike woman Rotwang had made previously. 1928 Daily Express 11 Aug. 3/7 The romance of past centuries and robot-like drama of modern times meet at Sandwich. 1972 T. MCHUGH Time of Buffalo xi. 132 Among the most widespread was the Pawnee myth of the robotlike buffalo skull that pursued and devoured people. Ibid. 133 Marching robotlike after the coyote, the skull eventually devoured him. 1976 B. BOVA Multiple Man (1977) xiv. 147 That same robot~like Oriental butler served us steaks. 1946 J. T. SHIPLEY in W. S. Knickerbocker 20th Cent. Eng. 131 Despite robot-makers..human nature changes, if at all, but slowly. 1946 J. S. HUXLEY Unesco ii. 43 The robot masses and class-types of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. 1972 Times 9 Nov. 35/1 (heading) Robot petrol stations. Ibid., The two trends now being combined to produce what BP..calls robot stations, namely self~service and automatic money acceptance. 1930 Aberdeen Press & Jrnl. 31 Mar. 7/3 One of these robot-pilots has been fitted to a big twin-engined Supermarine Napier flying boat. 1951 A. Y. BRAMBLE Air-Plane Flight xv. 247 Automatic control or ‘robot-pilot’ is really a piece of control mechanism rather than an instrument as generally understood. 1935 Robot plane [see queen bee]. 1944 J. LEES-MILNE Prophesying Peace (1977) 84 Dame Una made stately preparations to dive under the table at the first sound of a robot plane. 1944 Sun (Baltimore) 20 June 1/3 United States heavy bombers struck twice today at the robot roost around Pas de Calais. 1958 I. ASIMOV Naked Sun i. 11 Fear of open spaces that barred them from the robot-run farming and mining areas of their own planet. 1958 C. C. ADAMS Space Flight 142 A manned satellite will be a formidable project… Unlike the robot satellite, it cannot be built in the laboratory and then installed in or on a rocket for delivery to orbit. 1976 Sci. Amer. Feb. 77 (heading) Robot systems. 1961 Daily Tel. 5 Sept. 21/5 Two robot teachers were on show in the Psychology Section. One, like a portable television set, had nine black knobs and a red button on the front. The pupil presses the black knobs to give his answer and the red button to obtain the correct solution. 1963 Ibid. 9 Apr. 17/4 (heading) Robot train tested with passengers. 1959 H. BARNES Oceanogr. & Marine Biol. 177 It is convenient to mount a Robot-type camera in a water~tight case, usually fastened to a pole. 1935 H. G. WELLS Things to Come 13 All the balderdash..about ‘robot workers’ and ultra skyscrapers, etc., etc., should be cleared out of your minds.

    Hence roboteer, an expert in the making of robots; robotesque a., resembling or suggestive of a robot; robotian a., of or belonging to a robot or robots; robotism, mechanical behaviour or character; robotnik [-NIK], a person behaving with mindless obedience to authority; robotry, the condition or behaviour of robots; roboty a., robot-like.
    1924 Observer 6 Jan. 12/2 When we reach the gloomy depths of ‘commercial English’{em}..we are dealing with a mere thing of use, the very pith and genius of Robotry. 1927 Daily Express 30 Aug. 3/4 The Girl in the Lift must on some occasions drop her magnificent Robotry. Ibid. 5 Sept. 9/1 There are times when they seem to be purely robotesque, automata driven by impulses of destruction beyond their control. 1928 Ibid. 17 Mar. 4/2 A few have their wooden craniums transfixed by bodkins, and some have Robotian hooks instead of hands. 1928 Observer 29 Jan. 9/3 (heading) The robotism of architecture. 1933 E. E. CUMMINGS eimi 3 Horridly roboty child smothered by ferocious Blau, swinging a ditto balloon at end of wire. 1944 C. L. MOORE in Astounding Sci. Fiction Dec. 155/2 The impression of robotism was what she meant to convey. 1946 Amer. Jrnl. Psychol. LIX. 190, I wish to define the rôle of robotism in psychology, to show what sense there is in talking about robots. 1955 Times 27 July 9 It might be a pretty compliment to the brothers Capek..if we called this new way of life robotry. 1960 Times Lit. Suppl. 16 Sept. 593/2 Too much law, and too centralized authority in all things breeds a society of automata, robotniks and helots. 1970 A. TOFFLER Future Shock ix. 180 Despite setbacks and difficulties, the roboteers are moving forward.

  42. I don’t see the real need to take so long to get a man in custody. Something else is possibly involved if the Secret Service is in on it. I find it funny how they call it a high speed chase when from the camera showing the Red Volkswagon Beetle it seems to be doing no more than 30mph or around there. The man was old so why do you need armored cars and robots? If it was some sort of bomb threat, they shouldn’t even have there cruisers so close with weapons drawn if the thing went off. Again there is more to this story that meets the eye…

  43. I thought I’d put “OED” or something like that at the top.

    I suppose it was a bit long.

    How did you link to it? It didn’t seem to want me to.

  44. Last line of that OED post:

    1970 A. TOFFLER, Future Shock

    Despite setbacks and difficulties,
    the roboteers are moving forward.


  45. Ooo, Brobots! That’s for when you have no one to watch football with, right?

    In a reversal of the normal order of things, I hope scientists delay development of the Brobot until after they have perfected the Hobot.

  46. Piers,
    I was just being a playful pedant ;)

    Yeah, I noticed that Toffler line too!

  47. got it! Need a reasonably priced, outdoor grade, glorified Roomba for frightening deer. Something that recharges solar during the inactive day and then patrols the property in a fixed loop and can recognize a warm body and shoot BBs at it, make stinks and loud noises (yes, yes, I know, but it’s illegal to chain young boys to the garden fence) and generally scare the damned beasts off the ornamentals.

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