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'Bum Bot' Robot Cop Drives Away Drug Dealers

An Atlanta tavern owner's remote-controlled chicken smoker comes with a video camera, public address system, and high-pressure water gun.

The U.S. Department of Defense has invested millions in the development of its Active Denial System, a nonlethal directed energy weapon intended as a means of crowd control.

Tavern owner and engineer Rufus Terrill, of Atlanta, Ga., has developed a nonlethal directed water weapon, the Bum Bot, to drive drug dealers away from his neighborhood for considerably less.

"It took me about three months," Terrill said. "I did some drawings and tried to decide what I wanted to build. Then I went out to see what kind of junk I had to build it out of. I found an old three-wheel scooter that was not working, one of those Hoveround scooters that you see for the elderly. And I had an old chicken smoker that I don't use for the restaurant anymore. And I had a couple of old wheelchairs that I picked out of the garbage. It's really just a bunch of garbage that I put together and painted black and put a water gun on it."

Terrill explained that he used to own a development company that had contracts with the Department of Defense. Two decades ago, he said he helped design equipment to stabilize machine guns on boats and vehicles. He holds a 1989 patent, "Sight mounting platform for colt M-16/AR-15 rifle."

The Bum Bot, Terrill said, "is just a little powder-puff version of some of the things I've built for the military." It's a remote-controlled robot with a video camera, public address system, and high-pressure water gun.

Terrill can regulate the pressure of the water. It can go as high as 200 psi, but he routinely runs it at about 30 psi. "It's like one of those SuperSoaker water guns," he said. "The purpose is not to hurt anybody. The purpose is to run [the drug dealers and prostitutes] away from the day-care center so they're not putting their garbage up there."

Terrill is on the board of directors of his neighborhood association and of the Renaissance Learning Center, a day care center in downtown Atlanta run by Beacon of Hope. The Renaissance Learning Center is block from Terrill's tavern, O'Terrill's Pub & Restaurant, in an area with a lot of drug-related activity.

"What happens at night is they have prostitution," Terrill said. "They've been throwing condoms on the playground, crack pipes, needles... there's just all sorts of garbage around here. And these kids just don't need to be exposed to this stuff."

"The police are just so overtaxed that they're not able to really patrol enough to run these guys off," Terrill said.

Lydia Meredith, executive director of The Beacon of Hope's Renaissance Learning Center, confirmed Terrill's assessment of the neighborhood and the shortage of police patrols. She said that Terrill's "Robo Cop" has helped significantly. "It's had a very positive impact on my corner, where I run a child care center for children, economically challenged children. I don't want the children to see the vice that comes to our doors when our doors are closed."

"When that Robo Cop goes up there, they scatter," Meredith said. "It has a tremendous effect."

Officer Steve Coleman, a spokesperson for the Atlanta Police Department, said he wasn't aware of Terrill's neighborhood policing efforts, but warned against confronting drug dealers.

Meredith, however, said police representatives attend monthly meetings of the neighborhood association that Terrill and she belong to and that they're aware of the situation. She said she saw no problem with Terrill's robot patrolling the area. "He's just taken the extra step that I think a whole lot of citizens need to do," she said. "We need some more Robo Cops out there."

Terrill has become the remote neighborhood watch. And his tavern's patrons in turn get to watch the watchman, on wide-screen. "Since I've got cameras on it, I can drive it from up here on the deck," he said. "We have the live feed that feeds into the big screen on our deck. So it gives the patrons a live reality show to watch sometimes. And you can hear them. They're saying to shoot 'em and I'm saying to please leave the area, you're trespassing."

But for Terrill, this isn't about the entertainment value. What he wants is to make his neighborhood a safer place. And so far, he said, the Bum Bot has helped. "It shows, you know, that individuals can do something for their community," he said. "You don't have to depend on the police to make yourself safe. You just have to be involved in your community."

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