Researchers at MIT have developed a sneaky underwater robot intended to find ships with illegally imported goods. The robot, which resembles a two-tone football, was built using a 3D printer. It consists of two halves: one is waterproof and contains the electronics, accelerometers, gyroscopes and the battery. The other half contains the robot’s unique propulsion system: six pumps that push out water through rubber tubes but leave no visible wake.
Sampriti Bhattacharyya, an MIT graduate student in mechanical engineering, built the robot with her adviser Harry Asada. So far, the robot has only been tested to see that it can be moved efficiently in a straight line. She says she will now add ultrasound sensors and work on the next aspect of the challenge: getting the robot to stay at a precise distance away from the ship, so that barnacles and other things that tend to cling to hulls don’t impede the scan.
Bhattacharyya hopes to produce the robots for less than $600 each, which would make them far cheaper than the current systems used to inspect ships. She envisions teams of these underwater spies working together to collaboratively and covertly inspect all ships as they come in to port.