Industry and academia team up in Ireland for a high-tech approach to fighting drug smuggling.
High-Tech Anti-Drug Efforts
International drug smuggling is a major problem. As smugglers have become savvier in getting around border security with their illicit wares, those working to fight them have to up their game as well. High-tech solutions to these drug smuggling interdiction efforts have been in sight for some time now.
Keeping an eye on maritime smugglers can be tricky. The seas are vast and it’s all but impossible to watch every inch of every coast. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, have come in clutch in such efforts. The US Coast Guard, for instance, saw its first major autonomous UAV-aided drug bust in 2013, when a two-week demonstration with ScanEagle UAVs were pivotal in an almost 600kg cocaine interdiction.
But it’s not just a US problem — and it’s not just a UAV solution.
As it turns out, Ireland has become a problem area. As Irish additive manufacturing supply chain solutions provider WAZP explains:
“Ireland has been identified as one of the softest targets for drug smuggling in the E.U. It has over 3,000 km of coastline and a marine area that is over 10 times its land size.”
Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund
This spring, the Irish government announced 29 initiatives to be supported under a new tech fund. As the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment describes it:
“The Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund (DTIF) is a €500 million fund established under Project Ireland 2040 and is run by the Department with administrative support from Enterprise Ireland.
A total of 29 disruptive and innovative projects were successful under the third Call of the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund (DTIF). The projects will share €95 million over the next three years. The funding was announced by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar TD, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD and the Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation Robert Troy TD on 22 April 2021.
The approved projects cover areas such as life sciences, medical devices, ICT, artificial intelligence, manufacturing and environmental sustainability. The €95m announced today brings the total Government funding awarded under the three DTIF Calls to date to €235m across 72 projects with 270 project partners.”
Among the newest 29 projects is GUARD: Drug Interdiction Using Smart Drones. The project description reads:
“Using artificial intelligence to develop drones to detect drug smuggling. This project will establish Ireland as a world leader in autonomous drone and drone-AI technologies. The advanced drone capabilities developed will dramatically improve capability and reduce costs for interdicting drug smuggling.”
Drones GUARD Against Drug Smuggling
Industry partners WAZP, A-techSYN, and VRAI and academic partners The Tyndall National Institute, University of Limerick (UL), and University College Dublin (UCD) are bringing together a suite of advanced technologies including:
- Autonomous drones
- User interfaces
- Digital twins
- Next-generation 3D printing
The partners and the technologies are being brought together “to aid the Irish Navy and Customs to dramatically improve their drug smuggling interdiction efforts and reduce costs,” WAZP explains. They continue:
“GUARD will be the world’s first marinized drones that will be capable of withstanding high winds, be able to take off and land anywhere including to and from ships, have an 800km range, and operate beyond line of sight.”
The novel drones will follow flight paths using smart AI techniques. Swarm support will allow for teams of drones to work together, covering large areas simultaneously — tracking that massively long Irish coastline.
“Given the expectation to be tested and deployed in Irish seas, The GUARD UAS would need to be operated from the ships at harsh sea conditions…as well as the land,” academic partner UL explains.
As part of the €5.1M DTIF funding for the project, WAZP itself has secured €1.1M to develop its technologies.
The company will be 3D printing parts like RF components including waveguides, lenses, antennas, and filters. These parts, they explain, “will create a new Gigabit mm wave mesh network, which, combined with existing satellite and cellular links will result in a novel wireless communication; that will allow the drones to transmit high resolution images and video to decision makers.”
The GUARD Project and its funding will enhance not only the security of the Irish borders, but also of the businesses contained therein. That is, WAZP and the other SMEs and institutions involved are poised for greater growth as well through their participation.
“We are delighted that the GUARD project has been selected for DTIF. It is a great chance to showcase that Ireland is at the forefront of innovation and technology,” said WAZP CEO and Co-Founder Shane Hassett. “The team are really looking forward to bringing our knowledge and expertise in digital supply chain and additive manufacturing to the table and to cooperating with the other partners and learning from them to create something that is so desperately needed. This funding will mean more jobs for each of the partners and will result in expanding our team with an additional 25 jobs.”