The advent of the electronic nose

It is hardly a secret that when some people visit their family members or friends in prison, they have been to known to smuggle them drugs and other contraband. Visitors often pass stringent examinations, check ups and detection points in order to prevent this.

A study is currently underway at Israel’s Institute of Technology (Technion) in cooperation with the Internal Security Ministry, focusing on developing a new technology for detecting drugs and other foreign objects secreted on people’s person using the test subject’s smell patterns. Prison visitors will be obliged to exhale into the device, and samples of their breath will indicate whether they are carrying any drugs or foreign objects surreptitiously.

Zvi Kanfar, head of Exact Sciences, Natural Sciences and Technologies Division under the Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Internal Security explains: “nowadays, the check points use invasive tests or screening. We are in contact with the Technion’s Chemical Engineering Department, where Professor Hossam Haick is conducting a study focusing on early detection of various conditions, including cancer, using smell patterns emitted from the lungs.

The study, estimated at millions of Euro, is conducted in cooperation with the EU. A feasibility study completed earlier has already proven successfully. There is a positive outlook for a prototype of a portable device in two years’ time. The test subject will exhale and emit air into the device, generating an immediate indication whether this person is hiding any drugs or foreign objects.

Kanfar explains the difficulty involved with the experiments into this new technology, as the experiment’ volunteers are required to swallow a foreign object that may pose a health risk. Work is underway to find techniques that will enable safe experiments.

The project involves the Ministry of Internal Security, the Technion and Israel’s Prison Service, which is a natural client for the device. Experts claim that in later stages, such devices will be a common occurrence at airport checkpoints.

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