The robot was originally designed to detect fissures in nuclear reactor tanks, but the research has found a new purpose as an anti-smuggling device, using ultrasound to scan for false hulls and propeller shafts which smugglers use to conceal their contraband. The anti-smuggling robots are around the same size as a football, which would allow them to be camouflaged. This gives them an advantage over current technology, because they could be deployed quietly before the smugglers have a chance to offload their illicit cargo.
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. Researchers at MIT are working on submersible machines that could use ultrasound to find drugs hidden on ships. Their prototype, which looks like a bowling ball, is designed to move along the hulls of ships. It could use ultrasound scanning to detect hollow spaces in false hulls and propeller shafts where drugs might be stashed. Developed by grad student Sampriti Bhattacharyya and Harry Asada, a professor of engineering at MIT, the robot is divided into two halves, one waterproof and the other water-permeable. The former houses a rechargeable lithium battery and electronics, while the latter contains six pumps that force water out through tubes, driving the bot forward. The robot can move between 0.5 and 1 meter per second while pressed against the hull of a ship, and its battery charge lasts about 40 minutes. The submersible was made using 3D-printed structural elements, meaning it could be manufactured for as little as US$600. That’s cheap enough to allow a swarm robot approach, with dozens of machines working in unison to ferret out contraband.