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Sensor system for detection of criminal chemical substances

Periodic Report Summary 1 - CRIM-TRACK (Sensor system for detection of criminal chemical substances)

Project Context and Objectives:
The Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) is under constant pressure to make the level of control over trafficking, smuggling and terrorism and other criminal activities more efficient. This leads to a demand for flexible and rapid equipment for the detection of drugs, key precursors of synthetic drugs, home-made explosives, and many other classes of harmful chemicals.
European LEAs are interested in the approach for the simultaneous detection of multiple threat agents. Three LEAs - the Dutch customs (DCL), the Lithuanian police (represented in the project by its training centre MRU) and the Danish Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) – are partners of the consortium and propose to use the CRIM-TRACK demonstrator device in extensive comparative testing and demonstration.
The detection of illegal compounds is an important analytical problem which requires reliable, selective and sensitive detection method that provides the highest level of confidence in the result. Moreover, to contribute in the successful development the automated target acquisition, identification and signal processing of data from the sensor is mandatory. Enhancements to sensing methods, recognition ability and target detection time lead with the algorithms improvements in software that is complementary to improving sensor hardware. In the end, the sensing device should be portable, rapid, easy in use, highly sensitive, specific (minimal false positives), and low cost.
The aim of the CRIM-TRACK project is to demonstrate a working sensing device that can be developed into a portable, miniaturized, automated, rapid, low cost, highly sensitive, and simple “sniffer” and detection unit, based on a disposable micro-colorimetric chip. The unit can be used for identification of a wide variety of illegal drugs, drug precursors and home-made explosives. The project combines highly advanced disciplines, like organic chemistry, micro fabrication and hardware technology, machine learning and signal processing techniques. It will provide custom officers, police and other authorities with an effective tool to control trafficking of illegal drugs and drug precursors.
CRIM-TRACK is developing a working sensing device based on these requirements. This EU FP7 project has succeeded in engaging highly skilled specialists in all areas required for successful technological development and implementation thereof. We rely on our demanding, internal team of law enforcement end users to benefit maximally from our prototypes. At current we are 18 months into development and have successfully detected all compounds required from us by these end users. We can now detect minute quantities of drugs and explosives as well as precursors thereof in laboratory settings.
Using colorimetric technology we have developed prototypes that employ disposable sensing chips. The prototype series converge toward a miniaturized, automated, fast, cost efficient, highly sensitive, and simple “sniffer” and detection unit. Ease of operation and intuitive sensor response are highly prioritized features that we implement as we gather data to feed into our machine learning system, which itself develops with time. With machine learning our ability to detect threat compounds amidst harmless substances improves.
Different end users typically prefer their equipment optimized for their specific field. In some situations, such as an explosives-detecting scenario, the end user may prefer false positives over false negatives, while the opposite may be true in other situations such as a drug-detecting scenario. Because the signal processing in done in silico, decisions will be programmed to match user preferences. Likewise, sensor output can be as detailed as the sensor allows. Thus, the user can be informed of the statistics behind the detection, identities of any threat substances, identities of co-detected harmless substances, and possibly quantities of both. On the other hand, the response can also be simplified down to “yes” vs. “no”.

Project Results:
The major results of the 18 month period is:
- The first deliverable D9.2 ‘Sniffer prototype 1 manufacturing for test’ as well as the first main milestone for WP9, MS1 (including) were both achieved on time (month 8/9 respectively).

- The 3 active prototypes were used successfully with few problems to perform many lab experiments in Denmark, England and Germany as originally planned over the last months by the partners DTU, CRA and SEC; the 4th ‘back-up’ prototype was used for debugging by GIAB in Sweden.

- “Blue print” for Prototype 3 is finished.

- All parts for prototype 3 ready. Prototype 3 is under assembly

- Quality of the colorimetric chip is dramatically enhanced from prototype 1 to Prototype 2.

- WP5 has succeeded in formulating several (~70) dyes, allowing us to spot them and thus make them a chemical sensing chip.

- WP5 has assessed the sensing capabilities of several (~70) dyes and has chosen 27 of these for use going forward.

- Software for “Monitoring station” in fast progress.
- Many new dyes have synthesized.

- Air-sampler and sample generator for prototype 1 and Prototype 2 implemented.

- Provision have been made for injection molding of flow chambers and parts of the colorimetric chip. This step paves the way for a truly “cheap” disposable colorimetric chip.

Potential Impact:
The trafficking and abuse of drugs affect many aspects of our lives. The economic cost alone is immense, estimated at nearly $215 billion in the US alone. The damage caused by drug abuse and addiction is reflected in an overburdened justice system, a strained healthcare system, lost productivity, and mental destruction.
The consequences of illicit drug use are widespread, causing permanent physical and emotional damage to users and negatively impacting their families, co-workers, and many others with whom they have contact. Drug use negatively impacts a user's health, often leading to sickness and disease. In many cases, users die prematurely from drug overdoses or other drug-associated illnesses.
Our invention can help in the battle against illicit drug abuse. Since the production of synthetic drugs depends on the availability of the necessary precursors, controlling the sale and distribution of essential chemicals used in clandestine drug labs is considered one of the most effective responses to clandestine drug labs and drug trafficking.
An analogous problem is posed by home-made explosives. Recent terrorist bomb attacks such as the July 2005 bombings in London, and the 2004 Madrid train bombings, the increasing use of suicide bomber tactics against citizens and the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) against security forces highlight the growing use and terrible impact of home-made explosives like acetone peroxides (TATP, APEX or HMTD). Due to the ubiquity and unpredictability of the threat it is almost impossible to protect public buildings and transport from attacks using such home-made explosives. Here too, LEAs have to develop and refine their strategies in order to control the distribution of raw materials and their use in home-made explosives and liquid energetic material mixtures.
The CRIM-TRACK sniffer system can be used at strategic locations such as airports, border inspection stations and public places to provide law enforcement officers and custom control with fast and reliable identification of illicit drugs and drug precursors thereby preventing drug trafficking.

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