Domestic security officials aim to replace human divers with an autonomous underwater vehicle whose design is derived from nature: the tuna, one of the fastest and most maneuverable fish in the sea. The vehicle would be used primarily to inspect ship hulls for contraband, saving divers from hazardous trips into hard-to-reach areas below the waterline where oil and other toxic chemicals are part of the mix. Designers also envision the tuna-modeled robot could also be used for search and rescue missions.
The Biomimetic In-Oil Swimmer (BIOSwimmer) is an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) being developed by Boston Engineering Corporation’s Advanced Systems Group, in Waltham, Massachusetts, for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This tuna look-alike can be operated either by remote control with a tethered cable or pre-programmed to operate autonomously, according to David Taylor, specialist, cargo security, Border and Maritime Security Division, Science and Technology Directorate, DHS, and program manager for the BIOSwimmer program.
“It was originally designed as a vehicle that could go inside cargo tanks and look in oil cargos for contraband,” he explains. Based on subsequent feedback from DHS Customs and Border Protection (CBP) field officers, the BIOSwimmer’s design has been modified to function primarily as an AUV that examines ship hulls.