The Baltimore Police Department is buying an underwater robot to help officers search the depths of the Inner Harbor and other waterways, after using one to find the body of a man who drowned after running from officers.
The $71,786 robot — technically a remotely operated underwater vehicle — will supplement the department’s existing teams of divers.
Police spokesman T.J. Smith said officers borrowed a similar robot to search for a man who fled in March after being questioned and jumped into the water in Fells Point.
“It’s a piece of equipment that will assist us greatly in recovery efforts moving forward,” Smith said.
A spokesman for VideoRay, the company that is selling the department the robot, said it demonstrated the system for the police in April and found the man’s body within hours after divers had searched fruitlessly for two weeks.
The next month, city purchasing officials issued a request for companies to sell the police department one of the systems. VideoRay was the only bidder.
The Baltimore Board of Estimates, which is controlled by Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, approved the purchase without debate Wednesday.
According to contracting documents, the police department wanted a mini-submarine that could reach depths up to 1,000 feet — far deeper than the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay — equipped with a high-resolution camera, sonar, lights and a jaw to retrieve objects.
The robot is tethered to its controls, so it can’t operate freely as an airborne drone might.
Chris Gibson, the VideoRay spokesman, said the police department’s robot is called a Pro 4 Plus BASE. It’s bright yellow and weighs 13.5 pounds.
VideoRay calls itself the largest manufacturer of remotely operated underwater vehicles and sells its systems to help guard against terrorism, to inspect bridges and other infrastructure and to conduct scientific research.
The potential use by police of flying drones has attracted more attention than their use underwater, but strict rules on airborne drones and privacy concerns have deterred police departments from adopting them. But in the bay, there are few restrictions on using robots.
In 2015, a waterman caught a drone submarine that defense contractor Northrop Grumman was using to carry out sonar research.