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Breaking Good: Chemistry Professor Builds Car to Sniff Out Drugs

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Grab the tin foil and start making hats, ladies and gentlemen, because a chemistry professor from Texas has done the exact opposite of what television has told us chemistry professors do and developed the world’s first drug-sniffing car.

“Sniffing” isn’t really an accurate term, of course—the car just possesses instruments capable of detecting trace amounts of illicit substances (say, fumes coming from a meth lab) in the air, then pinpoints their origins on a map. The inventive professor (and future star of Breaking Good) Dr. Guido Verbeck created the prototype by fitting a mass spectrometer to his Ford Fusion Energi (that’s right, he’s even fighting pollution with a plug-in electric car).

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But wait, you cry, spectrometers are touchy pieces of equipment, specifically sensitive to physical vibrations and shocks! Normally, this would be true, you surprisingly tech-savvy reader, you. However, this particular spectrometer has been modified to use a magnetically-levitating pump-shaft to protect the device’s stability. In addition, the spectrometer is incredibly sensitive, so to get away from pollutants and particles present pretty much anywhere people live, the spectrometer had to be calibrated in Antarctica (although the professor was tight-lipped over its use to bust penguin meth labs).


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Photo: Benjamin Brackman

So, how accurate is this device, really? Well, according to Verbeck, really, really accurate. He apparently tested his device by setting up a fake meth lab in a mobile home emitting fumes through the vents, and from a distance of a quarter-mile (read: more than four football fields away) the car was able to pinpoint where the fumes were coming from to within 15 feet.

“When certain types of chemical strains are detected, the computer kicks on and starts calculating where that strain is coming from,” he said. “Within a matter of minutes, the location is pinpointed within a 4% error.”

Of course, some people have a problem with this technology. Many are worried that this issue could be too close to one that the Supreme Court discussed back in 2001, where the Supreme Court ruled that using thermal imaging to detect heat from marijuana grow lights before getting a warrant to do so was an illegal search.

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However, this is not a direct analogy. As opposed to the thermal imaging scan, it seems as if the drug-sniffing car would not really be used in a way that targets one person or residence in particular—it simply would scan the air until it found something illicit, then direct police to the source.

In any case, the drug-sniffing car would have to make an arrest and be contested in court before that kind of decision could be rendered, and the device isn’t ready for sale yet—the one drug-sniffing car is just a prototype, and the device itself is apparently still far too complicated to be used by anyone who isn’t, well, a chemistry professor. Don’t relax in your meth lab too much, though. Police turning their patrol cars into drug-sniffers isn’t too far off—a new version is already being developed with a much simplified interface to be used by the average officer with minimal training.

News Source: Vice News

  • Daniel SuscoEditor

    Daniel Susco is a native of the Dayton-Cincinnati area, and has written on a multitude of subjects. He can discuss Shakespeare, expound on Classical Mythology, and even make witty jokes about Pliny the Elder (More like “Pliny the Rounder,” right?). In his free time, Daniel enjoys reading, cooking, woodworking, and long walks on the beach (just kidding – sunburn is no joke). See more articles by Daniel.