Police around the world could soon be equipped with a mass spectrometer designed to sniff out drugs from almost a quarter mile away. A team of researchers at the University of North Texas has invented the device which they fit in a 2015 Ford Fusion Energi hybrid sedan. It can detect traces of narcotics in the air and pinpoint the location on a map.
Initially, Dr Guido Verbeck, a chemistry professor, and his team were working on the development of a device called Membrane Inlet Mass Spectrometry, which would analyse the quality of air. However, the team soon recognised that the invention could be used to detect certain chemicals in the air.
They installed the device in the car and tested it by creating a fake meth lab in a mobile home, from where drug fumes were released through vents. Soon, they found that the device managed to locate the source of the fumes and provide their exact location.
"When certain types of chemical strains are detected, the computer kicks on and starts calculating where that strain is coming from. Within a matter of minutes, the location is pinpointed within a 4% error," Verbeck said, according to Vice News. "Finding a smoking joint with the car would be easy," he added.
He said police departments and federal agents were interested in their invention which would cost anywhere between $80,000 (£55,500) to $100,000 once it is commercially produced. The inventors demonstrated the device to federal agents in March. "A device like that would be great," said special agent Melvin Patterson, a spokesperson for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington.
Even as the device has sparked a debate on its constitutionality, Patterson believes that there should not be any legal issue. "If it's in the air, it's like the air waves. They are not owned by anybody," he explained.