While improvised explosive devices are certainly not designed to be “safe,” pipe bombs are particularly notorious for being unstable. When police forces respond to calls regarding such bombs, they usually utilize a remote-control bomb disposal robot to disable or detonate them. Unfortunately, this process often results in a loss of forensic evidence, that could be used to track down the bomb-maker. That’s where the Department of Homeland Security’s new Semi Autonomous Pipe Bomb End-cap Remover (SAPBER) comes into play. It’s a device that dismantles pipe bombs, leaving all of their components intact.

SAPBER (pronounced like “saber”) is a 140-pound (63.5-kg) wheeled platform that’s pulled into place by a human bomb disposal expert, or towed behind a bomb disposal robot. It has two 12-volt batteries, that provide power to onboard tools including cutting wheels, an articulated wrist, a chain-driven gear, an electric motor, radios, a telescoping mast, and four video cameras.

After the unit has been placed on site, the bomb disposal robot is used to pick up the pipe bomb, and place it on SAPBER’s transfer tray. A safely-distanced human operator at a control panel then proceeds to use SAPBER’s tools to take the bomb apart, guided by the live feed from its cameras.

This process consists mainly of removing one end of the bomb, then allowing the detonator, explosives, and shrapnel inside to fall into a collection trough – the whole procedure is recorded on video. The device can be used on bombs made from a variety of materials, including straight or galvanized steel, copper, or PVC.

SAPBER can be used on a variety of types of pipe bombs

The current SAPBER prototype and its software were created by Pittsburgh-based robotics firm RE2 Inc. In order to keep the planned price of a production version down to about US$12,000, all of its parts are mass-produced and available off-the-shelf.

It has already been tested on live explosive devices by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, and has been field tested by several bomb squads.

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