Robotic ferret will detect hidden drugs and weapons

Jun 12, 2009

A new type of robot being developed 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 is being worked on at the University of Sheffield with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The ferret will be the world's first cargo-screening device able to pinpoint all kinds of illicit substances and the first designed to operate inside standard freight containers.

It will be equipped with a suite of sensors that are more comprehensive and more sensitive than any currently employed in conventional cargo scanners.

Recent advances in both laser and fibre optic technology now make it possible to detect tiny particles of different substances. The EPSRC-funded project team is developing sensors which incorporate these technologies and that are small enough to be carried on the 30cm-long robot, in order to detect the specific 'fingerprint' of illegal substances at much lower concentrations than is now possible.

When placed inside a steel freight container, the ferret will attach itself magnetically to the top, then automatically move around and seek out contraband, sending a steady stream of information back to its controller.

Current cargo-screening methods rely on a variety of separate methods, such as the use of sniffer dogs and external scanners for detecting explosives and drugs and carbon dioxide probes and heartbeat monitors to detect a human presence.

Cargo scanners currently in use at seaports and airports only generate information on the shape and density of objects or substances. The ferret, however, will be able to provide information on what they actually consist of as well.

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

Working prototypes of the cargo-screening ferret could be ready for testing within two years, with potential deployment within around five years.

Source: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (news : web)

Explore further: Brain-training for baseball robot

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Progress spacecraft to have fiery end

Mar 28, 2007

The Progress 23 cargo spacecraft successfully undocked Tuesday from the orbiting International Space Station loaded with trash and unneeded equipment.

Muons in search for hidden pyramid chambers

Feb 21, 2005

Earth is showered constantly by particles called muons that are created by cosmic rays, and clever scientists are finding ways to use them as probes of dense objects, including a massive pyramid in Mexico and volcanoes in ...

Jules Verne dry cargo prepared in Turin

Oct 09, 2007

Around 180 kg of dry cargo which is to be carried into space on board Jules Verne, the first Automated Transfer Vehicle, is currently undergoing final preparation in Turin, Italy, ahead of shipment to the ...

Engineers have big ideas for the latest in medical scanners

Feb 12, 2008

Engineers at the University of Sheffield and STFC Rutherford-Appleton Laboratories have developed one of the World's largest imagers that could form the heart of future medical scanners. The new technology will allow doctors ...

Recommended for you

Key decisions on drones likely from Congress

17 hours ago

The Obama administration is on the verge of proposing long-awaited rules for commercial drone operations in U.S. skies, but key decisions on how much access to grant drones are likely to come from Congress ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

zbarlici
not rated yet Jun 14, 2009
if its a robot why make him look like a wimpy ferrett? Make him look more scary like Judge Dredd or somethin`!
jmhenry
not rated yet Jun 14, 2009
Ferrets were domesticated by humans for hunting. A robotic ferret is designed to track down things in very tight spots. A case of nature supplying a great model for a robot.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.