Robotic fish may become the next tool used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to search for weapons, illicit drugs and other contraband hidden in the hulls of inbound ships. The BIOSwimmer robofish, under development by the Boston Engineering Corp.'s Advanced Systems Group for the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), is modeled after the tuna fish for its ability to maneuver in tight spaces and its finely tuned muscular control.

Such control could be useful while the robo-fish searches a ship's hull for hidden contraband. BIOSwimmer is controlled by a laptop computer and connected by a tether through which data is returned to the operator. BIOSwimmer is battery powered and can operate autonomously, but without a tether, “sending data up through the water column is somewhat challenging,” S&T Program Manager David Taylor told NBC. For operation without a tether, the robotic fish must be brought to the surface periodically so its data, which the device collects with an array of sensors, can be downloaded.

"It's all about distilling the science," Taylor told Phys.org. "It's called 'biomimetics.' We're using nature as a basis for design and engineering a system that works exceedingly well. Tuna have had millions of years to develop their ability to move in the water with astounding efficiency. Hopefully we won't take that long."

The DHS is in talks to bring a BIOSwimmer prototype to an undisclosed customs port within a year, NBC reported.