Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have unveiled an oval-shaped submersible robot that could inspect ships for the false hulls and propeller shafts that smugglers use to hide contraband.
The robot has a flattened panel on one side that it can slide along an underwater surface to perform ultrasound scans.
Due to its small size and unique thrusting mechanism the robots could, in theory, be concealed in clumps of algae or other camouflage.
The proposition is that fleets of robots could swarm over ships at ports without alerting smugglers; giving them the chance to throw away their cargo.
Sampriti Bhattacharyya, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, who co-designed the robot said: “It’s very expensive for port security to use traditional robots for every small boat coming into the port.
“If this is cheap enough — if I can get this out for $600, say — why not just have 20 of them doing collaborative inspection? And if it breaks, it’s not a big deal. It’s very easy to make.”
Bhattacharyya informs us that the rechargeable lithium batteries used in the prototype last about 40 minutes.
The researchers envision teams of robots working in rotation with some returning to the port to recharge as others return back to duty.
In terms of future development, their next prototype will feature wirelessly rechargeable batteries that should increase the robot’s operation time to 100 minutes on a single charge.
The MIT research was funded by the US National Science Foundation.