Indian-origin researcher in US unveils robot for port scan

A low-cost football-sized robot has been developed by an Indian-origin researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in US to perform underwater ultrasound scan at ports to spot concealed contrabands.

Boston: A low-cost football-sized robot has been developed by an Indian-origin researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in US to perform underwater ultrasound scan at ports to spot concealed contrabands.

Originally designed to look for cracks in nuclear reactors' water tanks, the robot could also inspect ships for the false hulls that smugglers often use to hide contrabands, Sampriti Bhattacharyya, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, who designed the robot with her adviser Ford Professor of Engineering Harry Asada, 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 USD 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 was quoted as saying by MIT yesterday.

The oval-shaped submersible robot, a little smaller than a football, with a flattened panel on one side that it can slide along an underwater surface to perform ultrasound scans.

Because of its small size and unique propulsion mechanism - which leaves no visible wake - the robots could be concealed in clumps of algae. Fleets of them could swarm over ships at port without alerting smugglers, MIT report said.

Bhattacharyya built the main structural components of the robot using a 3-D printer in Asada's lab. Half of the robot - the half with the flattened panel - is waterproof and houses the electronics. The other half is permeable and houses the propulsion system, which consists of six pumps that expel water through rubber tubes.

The researchers unveiled the robot at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems last week in US.

The rechargeable lithium batteries used in the prototype last about 40 minutes. Their next prototype will feature wireless rechargeable batteries, Bhattacharyya noted. 

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