The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is charged with protecting all borders of our country from all threats. That’s a pretty tall order, which means the DHS employs a number of tactics just to make sure they’re covering all the bases. There are visible operations like security checkpoints at the airport and border patrols, but threats don’t only enter the country in planes and cars.
In order to combat the large amount of criminal activity taking place in and around American waterways, the DHS recently announced that it is developing an unmanned underwater vehicle designed to resemble a tuna, called the BIOSwimmer. According to DHS officials, the tuna-bot can aid in the inspection of underwater areas where human inspectors can’t go.
Now, the U.S. Government already has lots of unmanned vehicles at its disposal, like airborne drones and bomb dismantling robots. So why recreate a robot in the shape of a tuna? Apparently the real world tuna has some characteristics DHS considered very desirable, namely a streamlined body that demonstrates both speed and maneuverability in underwater environments, and a finely tuned muscular/sensory/control system. These are the things DHS hopes to emulate in the BIOSwimmer.
Under development by Boston Engineering Corporation’s Advanced Systems Group (ASG) in Waltham, Massachusetts, the BioSwimmer is battery powered and uses an onboard computer suite for navigation, sensor processing, and communications. It also features a flexible aft section and appropriately placed sets of pectoral and other fins so that just like the real tuna, it can inspect the interior voids of ships such as flooded bilges and tanks, and hard to reach external areas such as steerage, propulsion and sea chests.
“It’s all about distilling the science,” said David Taylor, program manager for the BIOSwimmer, in S&T’s Borders and Maritime Security Division. “It’s called ‘biomimetics.’ We’re using nature as a basis for design and engineering a system that works exceedingly well. Tuna have had millions of years to develop their ability to move in the water with astounding efficiency. Hopefully we won’t take that long.”