Big ports have always struggled to keep an eye on every single ship that passes through their waters—especially the part of the boat that's underwater. Now, there's a new sort of robotic barnacle that can stealthily slide along the hulls of incoming ships and scan for hidden compartments where smugglers hide their loot. And it's only the size of a football.

MIT just announced this new anti-smuggling submarine, which is designed with an innovative propulsion system that prevents the stealth robot from leaving a wake in its path. This is accomplished using six pumps to propel water on the permeable half of the robot. The other half is sealed and contains the device's electronics, including communications equipment and an ultrasound scanner that seeks out hollow spots in the hull where contraband might be found.

The inventors imagine these robots could be deployed in swarms to ensure that every surface coming into port gets scanned. And at just $600 a pop, they won't cost ports very much.

The technology, in many ways, is already tried and tested. Small submarines like these were originally designed to look for cracks in nuclear reactors' water tanks. So the task of searching for hollow spots in ships' hulls is basically a variation on the same functionality. Only these sneaky robotic barnacles are sure to piss off a lot of smugglers. [MIT News]

Image via MIT