Homeland Security’s New Underwater Robotic Fish Hooks Drug Smugglers

The Battleship Texas is playing a key role in testing a new underwater robot that's used to detect drugs and other contraband attached to ship hulls headed into the Port of Houston. The "robotic fish" is the latest addition to the Department of Homeland Security's high-tech underwater arsenal.

The Battleship Texas, the century old museum ship that’s permanently docked at the San Jacinto State Park, was back in the business of serving the country as a testing platform for a 6 foot long underwater robotic that looks like a fish, and designed to detect contraband hidden on a ship’s hull. It was developed by Boston Engineering Corporation’s Advanced Systems Group. Mike Rufo is director:

Mike Rufo stands in front of the Battleship Texas
Mike Rufo, director of Boston Engineering Corporation’s Advanced Systems Group

“This fish is called BIOSwimmer. It’s an underwater vehicle that we’re developing for the Homeland Security science and technology directorate, and really what it’s focused on is bring high maneuverability and mission versatility to the missions of hull inspections in searching complex areas within harbors.”

Hernandez: “This particular item has got many applications, is that right?”

Rufo: “Absolutely. It’s designed to be very versatile, very modular into essentially be able to swap out different payload packages.”

It is capable of operating in high viscosity fluids like crude oil, which could make it a valuable tool for off-shore drilling operations. RoboFish has been hooked, so to speak, by various government agencies. Don Welch is with 3U Technologies, which is helping  market the system:

“DEA, Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, all those agencies are involved in inter-related and collaborating on the interdiction of contraband of drugs coming into the U.S. The beauty of this fish is that we’ll be able to provide underwater hull searches in a very fast and efficient manner.”

RoboFish is equipped with a camera and sonar to aid in the detection of hull anomalies:

“And if an anomaly is detected using sight-scan sonar, then the operator can take manual control, and can swim the robot over to where the anomaly is, and we’ll have a high resolution camera mounted on the robot and it can take visual pictures of that, and then transmit that data back up to the operators and law enforcement agencies.”

Welch adds that drug smugglers spare no expense when transporting the illegal cargo:

“They are able to look at new and inventive ways to smuggle their contraband into the U.S. So it’s a constant challenge to try and stay ahead of, and keep up with those developments as they go. And the law enforcement agencies here in the U.S. have to be able to respond to those new and evolving threats to our national security.”

You can see RoboFish in action at