The 700-pound robot took a beating as the man with a sledgehammer hacked off its arm and then, in a surprising show of strength, shoved its mangled body off the front porch of the Lindenwold home.

The Camden County Sheriff's Office had sent the robot - which has a microphone through which a deputy can speak - to negotiate with the man after he fired gunshots in the neighborhood and barricaded himself.

Now, with the robot having drawn the man out of the home after about an hour, authorities realized that he no longer had a gun.

The SWAT officers approached and, as the man tried to charge at them, Capt. John Fetzer said, they subdued him with beanbags fired from a shotgun.

The 2011 incident captures one of the wild encounters of the office's three robots, which lack nicknames but play the role of employees - just outfitted with cameras and microphones.

The biggest benefit they offer, Fetzer said: saving lives, of officers and suspects.

Had the robot not drawn the man out in the 2011 incident, for example, the SWAT team might have had to storm the house, believing that he still had a gun.

"It's probably one of our greatest assets," Fetzer said of the robots. "Any time that we can take someone into custody without having to hurt them," or can avoid injuries to officers, "that's the goal, that's what we want to do."

The three robots - which Fetzer said cost more than $200,000 each and were purchased through federal grants - respond to emergencies in both Camden and Gloucester Counties. Burlington County uses robots from the state police.

The Camden County Sheriff's Office has used six different robots, including the current three, since it began using them in the early 1990s, Fetzer said. The current three were purchased in the last four years, with a nearly 500-pound unit replacing the damaged 700-pound robot.

The robots don't shape-shift or walk like humans (sorry, Terminator fans) but, rather, move on wheels and tracks.

The robots can open car doors; climb stairs; and, with the help of a claw at the front, deflate tires and punch open windows. Each robot is a different size, and which one the sheriff's office uses depends on the scenario.

"If you're going into a house, you're not going to send a giant robot," said Joseph Welsh, a member of the agency's bomb squad. "Each one is particular."

The smaller machine can squeeze through hallways and, like the two others, is operated remotely by the sheriff's office's emergency response team, which encompasses the bomb squad and SWAT unit. In addition to the microphones, each robot has five cameras through which deputies can see what a suspect is doing.

When it comes to negotiations, the robots have proved useful, Fetzer said.

In 2008 in Winslow Township, a robot was sent into a second-story bedroom, where a naked man was waiting with guns, Fetzer said. The man had the door cracked open and had planned to ambush officers if they approached, Fetzer said.

But after several hours of negotiations through the robot, the man relented.

"He pet the robot like it was a dog, put his gun down on it, and came out," Fetzer said.

Of course, not everybody likes the machine. The man with the sledgehammer caused more than $20,000 in damage before he was taken down.

And in January, a Haddon Township man who was alleged to be suicidal and armed shot at one of the robots as authorities sent it inside his home. He eventually surrendered without harm.

But often, Fetzer said, the robot seems to have a pacifying effect on the barricaded suspect.

"Nine times out of 10, they respond immediately to robots," Fetzer said. "And you're typically able to get them out of harm's way."

mboren@phillynews.com

856-779-3829 @borenmc