Robots root through tunnels for Border Patrol

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Photo: Video by kgun9.com

Robots root through tunnels for Border Patrol

By Craig Smith. CREATED Sep 20, 2013

NOGALES, Ariz (KGUN9-TV) - Nogales Border Patrol agents have new partners with nerves of steel----actually, they're probably more like copper wiring.

Robots are adding more tech to searching drug tunnels.

Drug smugglers have some pretty imposing obstacles to getting their illegal loads into this country.  A lot of them decide if they can't get them over, they'll try to get them under but Border patrol has some new ways to stop them.

Border Patrol Agents use a small winch to crank down a new tool to crack down on smuggling.  It's a robot, originally built to inspect water and sewer lines.  They use it to find drug loads hidden in storm sewers and to find and explore tunnels smugglers dig themselves.
Agent Kevin Hecht says the robot's much better than sending agents into tunnels that can be full of bad air, bad water, and bad guys but sometimes an agent has to go in.

"We have had tunnels with contraband left behind in them and we have had tunnels when we hear people in there but by the time we make entry, it's kind of hard to be quiet, they're already south through the entrance on the Mexican side of the border."

Many of the tunnels are so tight you can't really even move on your hands and knees, you pretty much have to crawl on your belly; and that's just what agents like Tom Pittman do if the robot finds something that needs a human inspection.

He says, "Once you get into the hand dug portion you start thinking about several things.  Are you going to run into somebody that's armed? A drug smuggler?  That hasn't happened thankfully.  Is it gonna collapse on me? Am I gonna get stuck on something?"
But he's been crawling the tunnels for almost all his 18 years with Border Patrol because it's a great way to stop drug loads,  and now some mechanical help makes it safer.

The robots agents use now have a little bit of trouble in some of the crude tunnels dug by hand but new robots are on the way optimized for just that environment.

The robots used now cost about 80 thousand dollars.  Newer models will cost about half that.
Criminals actually paid for the robots.  Money seized in busts paid the bills.

Craig Smith

Craig Smith

Craig enjoys using innovative writing and visuals to make difficult stories easier to understand. As a newsroom manager at KGUN 9, Craig was part of the team that won three best newscast awards from Arizona Associated Press