A new robot designed by MIT scans ships for illegal imports.

Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created an underwater robot that basically serves as port security. Developed by researcher Sampriti Bhattacharyya, the oval-shaped robot performs ultrasound scans to search passing ships for hollow compartments, like false hulls and propeller shafts, that may be used to conceal illegal imports. 

Thanks to its small size, the robot can hide in clumps of algae, for example, to inspect ships without revealing itself. 

"It's very expensive for port security to use traditional robots for every small boat coming into the port," Bhattacharyya told Ship Technology. "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."

Only half of the robot is waterproof, which includes a flattened panel and electronics, including the control circuit, battery, antenna and inertial measurement unit. The other half houses the propulsion system and six pumps to release water through rubber tubes. 

The robot is powered by lithium batteries that give 40 minutes of life. This allows the robot to travel between half a meter and one meter (1.6 feet to 3.2 feet) per second. 

A new prototype includes wirelessly rechargeable batteries, making the robotic port security more efficient. 

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