for National Geographic News
It's Chile's raging scientific controversy: How does that robot work?
Manuel Salinas, a 39-year-old inventor, claims he has built a machine that has extraordinary capabilities for finding buried objects.
In less than a year, Salinas says, he has helped solve two of the highest profile criminal cases in this South American country. And now that university lab tests seem to confirm that his robot works, mining and oil corporations are flooding him with business plans, Salinas says.
How this machine functions is still an "industrial secret," Salinas said. But ask him for proof that it works and he'll hand you a pile of press clippings on the device, called Geo-Radar or Arturito (a play on the name of Star Wars robot R2-D2).
The first public use of the Geo-Radar technology was in the case of Luis Francisco Yuraszeck, a Chilean businessman who had been missing since March 2004.
In July 2005 Policía Investigaciones de Chile, the local equivalent of Scotland Yard, asked Salinas to help on the case.
Salinas took his robot to a rural farmhouse selected by the police. With reporters watching, the robot scanned the landscape. Within two hours, Geo-Radar provided an exact location of Yuraszeck's body, buried under 12 feet (4 meters) of cement.
Arturo Herrera, general director of Investigaciones de Chile, publicly acknowledged the effectiveness of the Geo-Radar technology in locating the body.
Buried Weapons, Treasure
Hearing the news, investigative judge Jorge Cepeda requested Salinas' help in solving a decades-old case.
In the 1960s a violent sect of about 300 German immigrants had built a 33,000-acre (13,000-hectare) compound known as Colonia Dignidad, later renamed Villa Baviera.
Recently a judicial order shutting down the colony led to evidence that the group had stashed thousands of pounds of armaments. But where?