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July 14, 2009

Researchers are designing a small robot to scour cargo containers for contraband.


Robotic cargo crawlers. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Smugglers often use big metal cargo containers to hide everything from drugs to weapons to illegal immigrants. That’s why researchers at the University of Sheffield in England are developing a small robot nicknamed "the ferret," that can look for all these things at once. Project leader Tony Dodd says it’ll be about a foot long, and equipped with wheels and a bunch of specialized sensors.

TONY DODD (University of Sheffield):
The initial idea is to use magnets to attach itself to the ceiling of the cargo container, and then move around, dangling sensors down through the cargo, and those sensors will hopefully be able to pick out explosives, drugs, or other forms of contraband.

Such a robot would be cheaper and more efficient than the bulky, external scanners we use now, or even dogs, which can be trained to sniff out one thing only. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.