Battelle has been announced as one of eight finalists in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate Opioid Detection Challenge, a $1.55 million global prize competition for rapid, nonintrusive detection tools that will help find illicit opioids in international mail. Each finalist will receive $100,000 in cash prizes and advance to Stage 2 of the competition.
In Stage 1, the Challenge called for well-developed plans for automated tools and technologies that have the potential to easily detect opioids in packaging, without disrupting the flow of mail. Stage 1 Submissions closed on April 24, 2019, and the Challenge received 83 submissions from U.S. and international innovators.
Battelle submitted an Automated Multimodal Opioid Detection system, a layered approach to opioid detection. Machine learning algorithms are applied to images captured through dual-energy radiography and hyperspectral imaging. The other seven finalists submitted designs featuring cutting-edge technologies, from molecular resonance detection to X-ray diffraction.
From this point forward, the eight finalists will join the 14-week prototyping accelerator, during which they will work closely with the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) to develop testable prototypes. Government and industry mentors will provide specialized support to the finalists on topics such as the inspection process, trace detection, artificial intelligence, and user design to advance their plans.
Stage 2 will consist of a live test event hosted by DHS, where the finalists’ prototypes will be tested on-site at a government facility. The Challenge will award one $500,000 grand prize and one $250,000 runner-up prize. After the conclusion of the Challenge, the government plans to develop these prototypes into the next generation of opioid interdiction tools. These tools will be deployed in international mail, express consignment facilities, and other environments across the country that call for rapid, accurate detection of opioids and related substances.
The abuse of opioids such as fentanyl has created an unprecedented public health crisis across the United States. In 2017, approximately 50,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses. International mail has been identified as a route for illicit opioids entering the United States, commonly transported in nearly pure, powdered form. Consequently, large-scale drug trafficking can occur via small packages sent in the mail. As part of the comprehensive government effort to address the opioid epidemic, S&T, CBP, ONDCP, and USPIS are seeking tools to detect opioid in parcels moving through international service centers and express consignment facilities. This Challenge is an initiative to address the supply side of the opioid crisis.
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