Spotting concealed contraband at ports can now be a lot easier as researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed an oval-shaped submersible robot that can perform ultrasound scans. They may not be as quick or efficient as airport sniffer dogs, but robots are getting ready to take the fight against drug smuggling underwater.
Last week at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, MIT researchers unveiled this oval-shaped submersible robot, a little smaller than a football, with a flattened panel on one side so that it can slide along an underwater surface to perform ultrasound scans. The robot could inspect ships for the false hulls and propeller shafts that smugglers frequently use to hide contraband. Its small size is ideal because it could be concealed in clumps of algae or other camouflage, hidden from view.
Sampriti Bhattacharyya, a graduate student in mechanical engineering designed the robot along with her advisor Professor Harry Asada. She says these hull-hugging robots are very cheap to make and economical for port security to use. The main structural components of the robot were built using a 3D printer. Half of the robot with the flattened panel is waterproof and holds all the electronic components. The other half has the propulsion system, consisting of 6 pumps and rubber tubes. The rechargeable lithium batteries last about 40 minutes. Since the robot can travel between half a meter and meter per second while pressed against a surface, it would have ample time to inspect multiple small crafts before being recharged.