This is the second interview in our series featuring the eight Opioid Detection Challenge finalists. We’re introducing each finalist and learning more about how their novel detection plans could quickly and accurately detect illicit opioids in parcels, without disrupting the flow of mail. The finalists are currently participating in a 14-week accelerator to develop their plans into testable prototypes. 

We spoke with Andy Bartko from the Battelle team. The company’s automated multimodal solution is a layered approach to opioid detection. Machine learning algorithms are applied to images captured through dual-energy radiography and hyperspectral imaging.

What inspired you to enter the Opioid Detection Challenge?
Battelle applies science and technology to solving what matters most to a wide range of clients. As the world’s largest nonprofit research and development organization, our mission is to translate scientific discovery and technology advances into societal benefits and to ultimately solve the nation’s most difficult problems. The opioid epidemic is a problem that Battelle’s expert technical knowledge, skills, and resources can address. 

What sets your opioid detection technology apart from existing solutions?
Opioid detection in packaging is difficult due to the variety of packaging materials, sizes, and clutter — and the potentially small amounts of illicit materials hidden within them. There is currently not a singular technology that can solve this problem. Therefore, Battelle’s approach uses multiple analytical spectroscopy technologies that are integrated into a machine learning algorithm to make determinations about package contents. This multifaceted approach integrates the benefits of multiple complementary technologies that provide a robust solution for this challenging mission. 

What’s the one thing you wish people knew about the role of your solution in the postal inspection process?
Battelle’s solution was conceived by a group of experts from multiple fields of science and engineering. Each expert possessed the knowledge and skills necessary to solve portions of the Opioid Detection Challenge. The collaborative environment at Battelle brought these experts together to form an interdisciplinary team to address illicit substance detection in the complex environments of postal sorting facilities. 

What’s your primary focus during the 14-week prototyping accelerator as you advance your solution?
Battelle’s primary focus is the integration of multiple proven analytical technologies into a machine learning algorithm that would effectively sense opioids in packaging.

Read about the other finalists’ detection solutions and subscribe to the Challenge newsletter to read more interviews with finalist teams.