Border Patrol Adds New Robocop to Drug-Tunnel Fight

Image: Border Patrol Adds New Robocop to Drug-Tunnel Fight U.S. Border Patrol Agent Ryan Grimm demonstrates how a robot is used to navigate a drainage canal along the border fence during a briefing in Nogales, Arizona on Jan. 14.

Thursday, 16 Jan 2014 08:59 PM

By Cynthia Fagen

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It's law enforcement's latest high-tech crime fighter -- a compact, camera-equipped remote-controlled reconnaissance robot that can burrow like a mole through man-made tunnels used for smuggling drugs across the US-Mexican border, the Christian Science Monitor reported Thursday.

Since 1990, authorities have discovered some 170 tunnels in Arizona and California, with more than half discovered on the Nogales, Ariz border.

Nogales is a hotbed of illegal crossings from Mexico into the United States.

"We've found all types of contraband in Nogales," Border Patrol Agent Kevin Hecht told the Monitor. "We've had marijuana, we've had cocaine, we've had heroine, we've had some meth."

The robot joins an arsenal of virtual surveillance equipment the federal government has been using, including camera towers, unmanned aerial drones, among other technologies.

The military-grade Pointman Tactical Robot, nicknamed Pointman, is only 19 inches wide and can flip, cross rough terrain, and climb stairs.

The wireless robot is also outfitted with a 12-gauge shotgun, but Hecht says that feature won't be activated -- yet. "That is not an option we needed right now."

The new robots will be able to detect any danger ahead before agents crawl through the tunnels. "Once you determine there's no threat and it's safe for the agent to make entry, then the agent can clear the tunnel and investigate further beyond what the robot was able to do," Hecht said.

Agents can control the robot for greater distances and "the fact that it's on wheels instead of tracks makes it easier to maneuver," he added. "Every robot I've tested to date has gone about 10 feet into a corrugated pipe and lost control," he adds. "These have gone through all the pipes without any problem."

Only 12 agents are trained to tunnel and it takes three agents about an hour to monitor the air quality and structural soundness. "Now we have a robot that's equipped with infrared and regular lighting so that you can go into these spaces," Agent Grimm says. "By myself, I can bring this robot down here and explore all of these tunnels within 20 to 30 minutes." Border Patrol Agent Ryan Grimm told the Monitor.

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