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Groundbreaking: An early prototype of S&T’s ground-penetrating radar on display at a demonstration this spring. Engineers tested the technology in a giant sandbox to simulate conditions along areas of the southern U.S. border

In a recent technology snapshot, our Science and Technology Directorate highlighted a project that, if successful, could help find and plug up smuggling tunnels as fast as criminals can dig them.

The Tunnel Detection Project is working on a design that places radar antennas in a trailer towed by a truck. Electromagnetic waves penetrate the earth, and what shows up on a monitor inside the truck is a picture of what’s beneath them, composed of red, yellow, and aquamarine dots. Civil engineers already use ground-penetrating technology, but it’s just to find pipes or cable a few meters beneath the earth. S&T’s taking this and giving it some oomph. They’re using much lower frequency waves to penetrate deeper into the ground, and the sophisticated imaging technology they’re working on produces surprisingly clear pictures of any tunnels that are found.
As a program director points out, tunnels have been found so far by good law enforcement work or by chance, but never by technology.

The team showed off a prototype this spring that used mock-up “border” made of sand and rocks. Soon, they’re bringing everything they’ve developed down to the Southwest to give it a spin against the rigors of the real border. What’s going to be key for them, they say, is being able to separate tunnels from rocks, plants, and other objects buried in the ground.

Check out the full snapshot.
Published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, D.C.
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