Space & Innovation

Drug-Sniffing Car Smells Chemicals a Quarter Mile Away

A portable air-testing system identifies different types of airborne chemicals in real-time.

A drug-sniffing car could give police patrols a whole new meaning. Researchers at the University of North Texas have developed an ultra-sensitive, air-sensing system that's able to pinpoint suspicious chemicals up to a quarter of a mile a way.

The system, called Membrane Inlet Mass Spectrometry, could give law enforcement an extra advantage in fighting illegal drugs, such as those developed in meth labs, and could also help resource managers monitor air and water quality.

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In fact, MIMS - developed in a lab run by Guido Verbeck - was originally designed to measure air quality. But the scientists soon realized that they'd made sensors more sensitive than they had imagined.

A semi-permeable membrane is at the heart of the system. It senses chemicals in the air, analyzes them using mass spectrometry and then produces real-time details on a computer display that anyone can read.

"The operator, or the tactical person using it, does not have to know anything about mass spec," Verbeck told CBS DFW. "They just know that this is bad."

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In tests, the scientists demonstrated that the system, installed in a Ford Fusion Energi, could pick up chemical signatures covertly, without raising suspicions.

"The car could just drive by it and keep moving down the road," Verbeck told CBS DFW. "It'll alert the officers there's something going on at the house, and where the location is."

In addition to the car-based system, the scientists also developed a smaller backpack version for testing water and air quality for environmental management.

HT Daily Mail