Dec 12, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Robo dogs and AI inspectors might be coming to the border

Ghost Robotics officials speaks as Vision 60 UGV walks in during a House hearing at the U.S. Capitol on June 22, 2023 in Washington.

Ghost Robotics officials speak as Vision 60 UGV walks in during a House hearing at the U.S. Capitol on June 22. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The future of border security includes robot dogs and AI-powered border inspectors.

Driving the news: U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced last week it had awarded Virginia-based Pangiam a contract to build an artificial intelligence tool to scan vehicles and cargo crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The big picture: Defense contractors and high-tech companies are racing to get a piece of the billions of dollars CBP is expected to spend on AI and biometric technology for border security in the near future.

  • The technology comes more than a decade after the Department of Homeland Security scrapped plans for a high-tech virtual wall, but now the technology has advanced. Meanwhile, CBP is struggling with staffing shortages.
  • But critics say the government isn't being transparent about what it's doing with the data they are collecting on U.S. citizens or how long they keep it, Dave Maass, Electronic Frontier Foundation's director of investigations, tells Axios.
  • The U.S. Government Accountability Office earlier this year released a report saying the Department of Homeland Security, along with other agencies, used facial recognition systems for criminal probes without requiring staff training.

Details: Pangiam, in partnership with West Virginia University, will develop algorithms for CBP that will use AI to scan for unusual movements or patterns among border-crossing automobiles.

  • CBP is also working with Altana, a startup that operates a global supply chain platform, to develop tech that helps track down the precursor chemicals used in fentanyl production to help stop the drug from being created, Axios' Ryan Heath reports.
A DJI Mavic 3 drone flies past a U.S. government surveillance tower near the U.S.-Mexico border on September 27, 2022 in Yuma, Arizona.
A DJI Mavic 3 drone flies past a U.S. government surveillance tower near the U.S.-Mexico border on September 27, 2022 in Yuma, Arizona. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The U.S. is also investing in other technologies to patrol the country's borders.

  • CBP has also installed license plate readers at checkpoints at or near the border and is using facial recognition systems for passengers arriving on international flights.

What they're saying: CBP has been "very forward-leaning in identifying what are our goals for AI," Andrew Meehan, a managing partner at Pangiam and former senior DHS official, tells Axios.

  • Meehan said it's the federal government's responsibility to maintain transparency and accountability about how new technologies are being used and why they are needed.
  • He also noted that the agency has a lot of experience operating new technologies like biometrics and ensuring that the public is informed and has the option of opting out.

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