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Underwater Robot Can Sniff Out Smuggled Contraband

Update Date: Sep 29, 2014 01:17 PM EDT

Researchers at MIT have developed a new football-sized underwater robot that could soon help protect America's ports. The robot can discreetly follow alongside a ship and perform ultrasound scans to search for smuggled contraband. 

The device could be produced for roughly $600 per unit and port authorities would be able to use a fleet of 20 or more of them to perform inspections together. 

"Transport by sea has been a favorite of smugglers for centuries - it's hard to patrol an entire coastline, and it's easier to move a ton of stuff by sea than by land," said Gizmodo reporter Chris Mills. "In the future, though, getting your contraband through a port might be made exponentially more difficult by this tiny, ultrasound-packing submersible robot."

"The device is perfect for the job, not only because it's small, but also because it doesn't leave visible bubble trails as it moves underwater," added Engadget's Mariella Moon. "Also, its propulsion system's housed within the permeable half of the device itself, so it can potentially hide in clumps of algae to avoid being spotted without getting itself tangled when it starts up. The other half is watertight and houses its circuits, batteries, antenna and other electrical components."

The prototype of the robot equips a rechargeable lithium batteries that last about 40 minutes. 

Researchers presented their work at the 2014 IEEE/International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems. 

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