The very fact that underground robots being used to patrol the US/Mexico border — a program now moving into its second decade — can be greeted with what amounts to a disinterested shrug is a good indication of how sci-fi our everyday lives have gotten. There are underground robots patrolling the edge of the country.
As the Christian Science Monitor reported last week, the diverse family of semi-autonomous vehicles used by US border patrol agents remains in flux, incorporating new designs and technical capabilities. Indeed, innovations across the field of media robotics — from remote-controlled CCTV to multi-spectral cameras — will all but inevitably find their way into police work and, by extension, into the active patrolling of the nation's outer periphery.
The specific news peg of the CSM piece was the recent deployment of a wireless camera drone — seen in the image below — that can inch forward through tunnel networks to illuminate, photograph, and film their deep interiors.
AP Photo/Brian Skoloff
"The underground gadgets add to the border's growing collection of virtual surveillance tools that the federal government has bolstered in recent years," CSM explains, "including camera towers, unmanned aerial drones, and a variety of wireless technology." The border, in a sense, is being turned into a weaponised media studio kitted out with camera gear that could make even a film student jealous.
Not unlike hardened versions of the archaeological ground-robots we looked at here on Gizmodo last year, these little spelunking machines extend their human operators' visual powers deep underground.
More specifically, they allow officers to patrol parts of the border — otherwise dangerous subterranean passages, from storm drains and culverts to elaborate, purpose-built smuggling tunnels — without putting themselves in harm's way.
AP Photo/Brian Skoloff
"In fact," the paper adds, "the remote-controlled robot can transform into a terrestrial drone outfitted with a 12-gauge shotgun, but [US border patrol] Agent Hecht says that feature won't be activated." Yet.
What's particularly interesting about this, however, is the notion that a broad region of the US southwest is gradually being infested from below with machinery, crackling inside with semi-autonomous camera bots steered by radio through the darkness. In the process, border security is becoming indistinguishable from a weird new underground media project, as police-controlled machinery snakes and rolls its way through labyrinths of subterranean space. These tunnels are like a parallel universe accessible just behind that drain entry, or hiding beneath a few tiles in the floor.
Photos by Sandy Huffaker, Getty Images News
Down in these self-connected mazes of whorled corridors and halls whittled from rock, excavated beneath the surface of national sovereignty, we send our cameras crawling.
In a sense, the outermost edge of the nation-state is being given over to the emerging field of border robotics, becoming an autonomous camera zone slithering inside with little imperial devices.
Lead image AP Photo/David Maung