By Rikki King Herald Writer
EVERETT — In the water, the robot looked like a curious critter.
It glided through the pool, poking its nose up to the surface to nudge at obstacles.
The robot is construction-equipment yellow, about the size of a small dog.
Nearby, specially trained deputies watched its movements on a computer screen, scanning the water through its “eyes.”
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office recently acquired an underwater robot, a JW Fishers SeaLion-2, through a federal grant.
They call it “Batman.”
Batman went for a test drive last week at a community pool in south Everett. It splashed around and posed for pictures.
Its true missions are more somber.
The sheriff’s office got Batman in January, Lt. Rodney Rochon said.
Later that month, Batman helped them gather underwater visuals as they pulled a car from the Snohomish River. The bodies of two missing people were inside.
On March 16, Batman found the body of a fisherman who drowned in Silver Lake the day before.
Batman’s worth about $40,000, Rochon said. As part of the federal grant that paid for the acquisition, the dive team and the robot can be called to help with rescue and recovery operations throughout the region.
At least two children and two adults drowned in Snohomish County in 2012.
Rescues are the team’s top priority, Rochon said. In the cases when they can’t rescue someone, they try to find the body.
“We need to recover the victim so the family can get closure,” Rochon said. “It’s not just about the investigation.”
The robot also can be used to gather intelligence and limit the time human divers spend in the water, he said. It can weather harsher conditions and dive deeper — up to 1,000 feet — and for longer than people can. Deputies only can dive 100 feet for safety reasons.
The SeaLion-2 design is most popular with law enforcement, said Chris Combs, a spokesman for JW Fishers, the Massachusetts-based manufacturer. It weighs about 40 pounds. It has high-resolution color cameras in front and back and four motors to propel it forward, backward, up and down. Some models have sonar technology.
“The SeaLion-2 is really a pretty neat little machine,” Combs said.
The lease ended a while back, and that robot went back home.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; email@example.com.