The US Border Patrol has unveiled some of its weapons in its war on drugs: Three wireless, camera-equipped robots that let border agents remotely navigate the tunnels and storm drainage systems that smugglers use to sneak drugs, guns and people across the border.
The agency is using the devices to keep agents out of harm's way as many tunnels can be poorly built and possibly collapse and lack proper ventilation. The 5.4kg robots also let agents navigate an underground labyrinth in a fraction of the time it would take an agent to explore the tunnel. And the devices can be used in tunnels and pipes where agents can not fit.
"If we find a tunnel, we like to send a robot in to clear it and identify any threats, contraband, potential people with weapons, and let the agent know ahead of time if the tunnel is structurally sound," said Border Patrol agent Kevin Hecht.
The Border Patrol held a demonstration of the devices on Tuesday in the southern Arizona border city of Nogales, where dozens of crude tunnels have been discovered over the years. The tunnels discovered in Nogales have generally begun in Mexico and have tied into the city's storm drainage system.
Nearly 170 tunnels have been found across the US since 1990, most along the Arizona and California border with Mexico.
Two of the three robots will remain in southern Arizona, while the third will be deployed in southern California.