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Robotic Ferret Will Detect Hidden Drugs and Weapons

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cargo screening ferret diagram

A diagram of what the cargo screening ferret could look like.

Credit: EPSRC

Scientists at the University of Sheffield have developed the first cargo-scanning device that can operate inside standard freight containers and detect illicit substances. The 30 cm-long robot ferret relies on sensors that use the latest laser and fiber-optic technology to detect tiny particles of different substances. The suite of advanced sensors enables the cargo-screening ferret to generate information on the shape and density of objects or substances, as well as on what they actually consist of.

Placed inside a steel freight container, the robot ferret can attach itself magnetically to the top, automatically move around and seek out drugs, weapons, explosives, and illegal immigrants, sending a steady stream of information back to its controller. "The ferret will be able to drop small probes down through the cargo and so pinpoint exactly where contraband is concealed," says project leader Tony Dodd.

The scientists hope to test working prototypes within two years, and believe that cargo-screening robot ferrets could be deployed in about five years.

From Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council
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