Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Robot Project Hopes to Revolutionise Freight Security

New Technology For Addressing Smuggling Under Development
Shipping News Feature

UK – British researchers are developing a potentially revolutionary new project that could radically improve the security of freight shipments. They are working to create a robot that will make it easier to detect drugs, weapons, explosives and illegal immigrants concealed in cargo containers.

Dubbed the ‘cargo-screening ferret’ and designed for use at seaports and airports, the device will attach itself magnetically to the roof of a container, then automatically move around and seek out contraband, sending a steady stream of information back to its controller.

The 3-year project began in October 2008 and is a collaboration between the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the University of Sheffield, the University of Glasgow, City University London, Loughborough University and defence company QinetiQ, with further assistance from the UK Border Agency and the Home Office Scientific Development Branch.

The program is receiving funding from the EPSRC to the tune of nearly £732,000 and aims to improve on existing screening methods by integrating a host of scanning technology into one small, 30-cm long chassis that will be the first such device to be capable of operating within standard freight containers.

Advances in technology means that the scanners used will be more sensitive than any currently employed in conventional cargo scanners, despite the small size and mobility of the system, and be able to hunt out a diverse range of contraband from drugs and weapons to people. The ferret is also envisaged to be as user-friendly as possible.

“It’s essential we develop something which is simple to operate and which Border Agents can have total confidence in,” says Dr Tony Dodd of the University of Sheffield, project leader. “The ferret will be able to drop small probes down through the cargo and so pinpoint exactly where contraband is concealed.”

With current trends in people smuggling and terrorism and clamp downs on shipping security, with corresponding losses in time and added costs to shipments, the development of the new device will no doubt be welcomed by all shippers and freight agents.

(For additional stories on new technologies being applied to shipping and freight see: 1 / 2 / 3)

(pic: © EPRSC)