Maybe RoboCop is closer to becoming a reality than you think.

Engineers at Clemson University are trying to get research moving to create a robot capable of responding to a violent attack at a school, such as what happened at Sandy Hook or Columbine.

"This will save lives," said Dr. Juan Gilbert, presidential endowed professor and chairman of the Human-Centered Computing Division at Clemson.

Right now, it's all in the world of "what if." But as envisioned, robots would be commonplace, kept inside schools to be called on in case of an incident.

The robot concept, which is part of "Project Hero," would be to keep the device, which for now is being called "Boo B. Trap," locked in a school storage area until a staff member or teacher presses a panic button alerting police that something has happened on campus, such as an intruder is in the halls.

"Officers would then remotely activate the robot to debilitate the suspected criminal," according to the project's press materials.

A digital video created for the idea launch shows the device emerging from sleep to be remotely directed down a hallway.

Gilbert said he got the idea while watching the debate pitting gun rights against the rise in gun violence at schools.

The robot concept steps around that divisive debate, he said, because it doesn't take away gun rights, nor does it mean bringing more guns into schools or arming the faculty.

"Boo B. Trap would not carry a firearm," Gilbert said.

The digital art drawing of an early concept depicts a four-legged scampering device standing about four feet tall. Designed to be bullet proof, the robot might be able to throw a punch with a battering ram, or deliver a non-lethal electroshock, Gilbert said.

Police would be able to control the robot off-site while other officers respond in person. At least three cameras would be included in the design, giving a 360-degree view.

"It's not autonomous, or even semi-autonomous," Gilbert said. "It can't do anything on its own. There's an operator controlling this 100 percent."

If the device were accessed by someone not authorized to control it, safeguards would allow controls to be overridden, he said.

Some of the nagging questions, however, include: How many robots are needed? How it will move in the terrain of a school with its mix of desks and people? Should it be able to fly?

Gilbert sees the potential for students across the country to work on the idea, including through organized design competitions.

"The way we see it, this creates a new job market," Gilbert added.

The idea could be in schools within three years, Gilbert predicted, depending on how aggressively industry adopts or explores the concept.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.