BomBots, the Fairmont-manufactured, remote-controlled devices that safely detonate explosives, are ready for their close-up in New York City this weekend.

BomBots are one of 150 cutting-edge, high-tech items on display during the third annual WIRED Nextfest conference, held this year in the Big Apple’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

“It’s an honor to be asked to come,” said Scott Gillespie, outreach manager for the research and development group of the West Virginia High Tech Consortium Foundation, which produces BomBots through the wholly-owned subsidiary Innovative Response Technologies (IRT).

“It’s the World’s Fair of technology, in which WIRED magazine invites what it believes to be the top life-changing technological devices for the past year.”

Victor Friedberg, the director of WIRED Nextfest, said 150 exhibitors are showing off products at the event, which opened Thursday to school tours and Friday to the general public. The conference closes after Sunday.

He agreed that BomBots, currently being used in Iraq to detonate Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), have attracted a lot of attention.

“From all indications, there are lines around it whenever it’s demo-ing,” Friedberg said Friday from the conference. “People love robots, and we have lots of humanoid robots — robots that spin records, robots that teach you how to dance — but it was important to show that robots have security applications, and we want to show the public those applications.”

The four BomBots on display at Nextfest were a big hit Thursday with students, Gillespie said.

“They were following them around like a pied piper,” he said.

About 3,000 BomBots have been shipped to Iraq as a high-tech reconnaissance device that can find and explode IEDs, which, according to statistics, have caused one-third of the 2,700 American deaths in the war. Defense News reported that 40 IED events occur each day in which a device either explodes or is disarmed.

The conference (www.nextfest.net), which started in San Francisco in 2004, features 11 pavilions with different themes, such as the Future of Green, the Future of Entertainment, the Future of Health, and the Future of Security, where the BomBots are being exhibited.

“We feel that the conference shows the direction of each of those major themes and that we will give the public a glimpse of the future in a three-to-10-year horizon,” Friedberg said.

Nextfest comes during a good week for the BomBots, noted Jim Estep, president and CEO of the WVHTC Foundation, as another $1.3 million of funding was released through the Department of Justice via U.S. Rep. Alan B. Mollohan, D-W.Va.

The money will go toward “ramping up the engineering on the product,” Estep said. “We want to improve the chassis and improve the suspension and put a new control system in it. We’re doing research and development on those engineering designs.”

If the description makes BomBots sound like a remote-controlled truck, that would be correct. That’s part of the beauty of the device, along with the price tag: $5,000, compared to the price of what Estep said would be the “next-best alternative,” in the $50,000 range.

“Sometimes a simpler solution is a better one,” Estep said.

Friedberg agreed.

“One of their advances was to get the price point to a place where these could be deployed in mass,” he said. “They are durable and they are able to be deployed easily and maintained easily.”

Currently, IRT has a nearly $10 million contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to manufacture and ship BomBots to Iraq and Afghanistan. Estep hopes eventually the devices also will be able to help local communities directly through police and fire department use.

“A volunteer fire department or a police department could afford a $5,000 robot, but not a $50,000 robot,” he said.

Estep has received reports of how the BomBots have been utilized in Iraq and how they have been successful at safely exploding IEDs. Some of the information is confidential, but basically, the truck is equipped with a tilt-and-pan camera as well as a mechanism that can dump up to 10 pounds of C-4 explosives.

“What the product is being used for is if there is a patrol going through a village and you don’t know if there is a bomb or somebody hiding, a soldier can drive the robot 20 to 30 feet ahead,” Estep said. “It can look around corners. If you see something suspicious, the soldier can drive the BomBot up to the suspicious box, and the soldier doesn’t have to get too close.”

Friedberg expects the number of conference attendees to range between 45,000 to 55,000, giving that many people the opportunity to check out the BomBots in action — at least in a non-warfare demonstration.

“People can really see the 21st century battlefield and see how the future is emerging and how these devices will play a role in how warfare is executed,” he said.

E-mail Mary Wade Burnside at mwburnside@timeswv.com.

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