MIT is developing underwater robots that hunt for drugs

The prototype can use ultrasound to find hiding places in ships

This prototype submersible robot from MIT is designed to use ultrasound to find secret compartments in ships used to smuggle drugs.

This prototype submersible robot from MIT is designed to use ultrasound to find secret compartments in ships used to smuggle drugs.

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.

"It's very expensive for port security to use traditional robots for every small boat coming into the port," Bhattacharyya was quoted as saying in an MIT News article.

The prototype was recently presented at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) in Chicago, but tests so far have focused on whether it can travel in a straight line and stay in contact with an underwater surface. It still has to be equipped with an ultrasound sensor.

The researchers hope to add improvements such as batteries that can recharge wirelessly and changes to the propulsion system that would extend operating time to 100 minutes per charge. Performing ultrasound scans without being in contact with a hull is another possible enhancement, since ships can be fouled with barnacles that would hamper the bots.

The anti-smuggling robot follows an effort by consulting company Boston Engineering and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop a tuna-shaped underwater vehicle called BIOSwimmer. That vehicle is designed to inspect flooded bilges and tanks of ships and to use a camera and sonar to detect hull anomalies that might signal the presence of drugs.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags roboticsMassachusetts Institute of Technology

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tim Hornyak

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?