Merced County Gets High Tech Underwater Robot

June 19, 2008 9:49:43 PM PDT
Merced County has a new underwater tool designed to do everything from search and rescue missions to homeland security inspections.The sheriff's department recently used federal grant money to buy an underwater robot. This week deputies took it to Lake Yosemite for a unique training opportunity, and they invited us to go along.

This small, green swimming machine is giving the Merced County Sheriff's Dive Team a whole new view below the water.

Cmdr. Doug Jensen, Merced Co. Sheriff's Dept.: "The ROV can go down 600 feet deep, and it has video on it, so you can see underwater. It has a lighting system. It has a claw on it to pick items up. It also has a sonar system built into it that has a radius of 1200 feet."

Deputy Michael Harris: "We're setting it down on the bottom and scanning the area."

On this training outing, deputies are using the remotely operated robot to help raise a boat from the bottom of Lake Yosemite using inflatable bags.

"Both bags are full of air."

The boat sank last summer and the owner swam to shore. The dive team recently found the vessel using the sonar technology and confirmed their find with the video images.

"We've been able to see a lot of things."

Deputies say the robot can also be used to help divers look for evidence, rescue swimmers, and recover bodies. But Sheriff Mark Pazin says the Department of Homeland Security paid for the 60 thousand dollar robot primarily to help protect the Valley's water supply.

Mark Pazin, Merced Co. Sheriff: "This piece of equipment is to maintain the integrity of the waterways in Merced County and other contiguous counties."

That includes looking for cracks or other problems in dams and canals and even searching for explosive devices. Pazin says the robot is a valuable addition to the department's crime-fighting fleet.

Mark Pazin: "Now we can attack it from land, air, and sea."

The robot has already been used to help Tuolumne County Deputies search for a body in Lake Don Pedro. And Sheriff Pazin says it will be available to other neighboring counties if necessary.


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