Call it the Ford Narc.
In the near future, police cruisers could detect drug labs just by sniffing the air as they drive down a street, CBC DFW reports (via Autoblog), all thanks to a device built by a team from the University of North Texas.
The highly sensitive mass spectrometer, calibrated in the clean air climes of Antarctica, was installed in the front seat of a Ford Fusion Energi sedan eight months ago.
Originally designed to test air quality, the device â€” built with the help of Inficon of Syracuse, New York â€” is now tasked with detecting something much more clandestine than simple smog. Chemicals used in drug makingÂ â€” meth, especially â€” waft out of houses and apartments whether their owners like it or not, and the device can pinpoint that chemical signature from a quarter-mile away.
“The car could just drive by it and keep moving down the road,” Dr. Guido Verbeck told the CBS affiliate. “Itâ€™ll alert the officers thereâ€™s something going on at the house, and where the location is.”
Given the sensitive nature of the equipment, it’s easy to see why the team chose a plug-in hybrid for their test vehicle.
A fine-tuned piece of technology is of little use if the operator can’t decipher test results, so the team whipped up software that analyzes the data and tells a police officer exactly what the car is smelling.
“The operator, or the tactical person using it, does not have to know anything about mass spec, they just know that this is bad,” Verbeck said.
As useful a tool as this could be for law enforcement, the test contraption was too bulky for use inside a police cruiser. The team then miniaturized it, so it could fit into a portable case.
Police forces have a habit of spending money on things that make enforcement and crime-solving easier, so the makers (and eventual marketers) of this technology are sitting on a gold mine.