EU-funded consortium unveils border-control robot
10.05.12 @ 20:12
BRUSSELS - An EU-co-financed project is aiming to mass-produce autonomous land vehicles designed to stop irregular migrants.
Using a €13 million grant from the European Commission's research budget and €7 million of private funding, a consortium of researchers and private firms has after four years of work produced a functioning prototype of the "transportable autonomous patrol for land border surveillance" or "Talos."
The unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) was demonstrated in Poland in mid-April at a military training ground in front of a hundred-or-so people, including officials from Frontex, the EU's Warsaw-based border control agency, Polish ministers and border guards from around Europe.
The complete system includes two autonomous UGVs, an unmanned command unit and a two manned command centres. Sensor towers are deployed in areas not accessible to UGVs.
One vehicle - "the interceptor" - is designed to track and chase down suspicious people spotted by its twin vehicle, which is equipped with optical and infra-red sensors. If they notice a suspect, they notify the interceptor and the command units, where border guards can order people via an onboard loudspeaker to halt and present their papers.
It is no good running away because onboard motion detectors - known as a "battlefield radar" - keep track of people while human border guards set off to catch them.
Agnieszka Spronska, a Talos spokeswoman, told EUobserver the group is now seeking additional EU funding to further develop and eventually commercialise the UGV for mass production.
The consortium, which includes Israeli Aerospace Industries, at one stage explored arming the interceptor with non-lethal weapons, such as tear gas and, according to one soucre, "a kind of acoustic device."
The idea was later dropped and Spronska said the project never developed any interfaces or applications to house weapons. But official Talos literature says there is still "space" for non-lethal weapons "to be considered" in future.
A Polish border guard on the project's end-user advisory board also quoted by the Talos website said non-lethal weapons could be "useful for [those] countries, where there are no limitations to the usage of [them]."
In theory, just a handful of Talos-type units would be needed to patrol the 12.5-km-long land border between Greece and Turkey, where an estimated 80 percent of all illegal entries into the EU occur.
For his part Erik Berglund of Frontex, who chaired Talos' end-user advisory board, predicted they might one day patrol sensitive sites, such as nuclear power stations. But he said they are unlikely to be seen on EU borders. He noted that Israel might find them more digestible as border control devices, however.
He also said that Talos produced little by way of new technology for all its work, with Frontex interested primarily in using the sensors, but on stationary platforms.
"The major contribution is the mobile command centre and the communications equipment," Berglund said.