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Sniff for smugglers

Researchers at City University London are developing optical sensors, that could replace sniffer dogs in the hunt for smuggled drugs. City University London has been awarded £140k from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to collaborate with the Home Office Scientific Development Branch (now CAST) and Smiths Detection.



Over the next year, they will aim to create a portable prototype with real-time, multi-drug sensing capability, which can find illegal substances in hard-to-reach areas such as vehicles and containers that are crossing borders.


Sniffer dogs are used in such situations, but they have a high cost of upkeep, can get tired and confused, and cannot act as evidence in court. As such, drug detection technology has been sought after for years, but it is still not efficient, accurate or sensitive enough for widespread deployment.


Tong Sun, a Professor of Sensor Engineering at City, is the project’s Principal Investigator. She says: “We have already developed a portable, highly sensitive and selective optical fibre-based sensor that is capable of detecting cocaine. This new funding will enable us to work with a leading provider of threat detection equipment and one of the key users of such technology to create a commercially viable product.


“In the year 2010 to 2011, the UK Border Agency made more than 1,200 individual seizures of Class-A drugs totalling 3,000kg. This clearly puts pressure on sniffer dogs and staff. With the new technology, we hope to make the process of detecting illegal substances easier and more cost effective and reliable.” 


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