The Bum Bot patrols Atlanta’s streets

By | April 25, 2008

Atlanta pub owner Rufus Terrill is getting huge news headlines for taking a high-tech approach to keeping the streets surrounding his neighborhood safe. The 57-year-old former Marine created a four-foot-tall, 300-pound robot patrol unit that serves as mobile security camera, security guard and neighborhood watch. His opponents are claiming that Terrill is adding to the city’s problems but for some of his neighbors and customers, Terrill is a hero for drawing a line in the sand.

The idea for the robot, which some are dubbing the “Bum Bot”, came from Terrill’s wife. After hearing complains from her hubby about how street vagrants, drug dealers and criminals were breaking into shops and cars in countless petty thefts she suggested to Terrill that he put his engineering hobby to use and make a mechanical extension of himself so he could patrol the streets surrounding his bar, O’Terrill’s, but also remain at a safe distance. The solution was a garage-built robot that is powered by four car batteries, uses a three-wheel scooter as its frame and is protected by plywood and black rubber gym pads. A spotlight is centered on the top of its ‘head’ along with an infrared camera that sends back the imagery to Terrill. There is also a speaker that Terrill can flip on to tell potential troublemakers to move along as well as a water cannon that can send a blast of cold water at any would-be attacker. So far Terrill hasn’t had to use the water spray to get his message across.

While the Bum Bot isn’t as futuristic looking as RoboCop the point that Terrill is making is that robots can be used by average citizens to safeguard their property. However, not everyone is a fan of the ex-Marine’s approach to home protection. “We have a Hollywood picture that [robots are] going to run amok, kill people and do bad things,” says Henrik Christensen, the director of Georgia Tech’s Robotics and Intelligent Machines Center. “This Bum Bot plays on that stereotype. For the rest of us who want to use technology to assist people in their daily lives, it’s an obstacle.”

But that isn’t stopping Terrill from continuing to use the Bum But. He and his mechanical creation just appeared on “The Colbert Report” and Terrill is considering a run for the mayor’s office. “[The Bum Bot will] be my chief of staff,” says the bar owner. “He’ll be parked in front of my office.”