Guido Verbeck's team at the University of North Texas started out last year to create a portable mass spectrometer to analyze air quality. .
To make it easier to haul around, the setup was built into a Ford Fusion Energi PHEV sedan, and the car could then be driven around communities to conduct experiments and take measurements.
But the truly handy use for the high-tech Fusion was revealed only after a while: the UNT team had built was a powerful drug-sniffing tool, perfect to be used in law enforcement.
The vehicle was built as a joint effort with Inficon of East Syracuse (NY), which builds gas analyzers and particle detectors. With the Fusion's passenger seat removed to make room for the equipment, the car picks up chemical signatures as far away as a quarter mile from the source, and can pinpoint the exact location of the suspected drug lab.
The latest versions of the mass spectrometer are small enough to fit inside a case, so it can be used in a standard-issue police car. The "nose" of the car's sniffing equipment is currently located next to the passenger-side outside mirror.
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