This is the fourth 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 Richard Picolli from the GTBM team. The company’s solution uses ultrasound technology in a molecular resonance detector that transmits sound waves and analyzes the returned frequencies. These frequencies are analyzed to define the distinct atomic/molecular signature of the target sample.

What inspired you to enter the Opioid Detection Challenge?
Immediately after 9/11, GTBM took on the focused mission to develop technology software and tools to support law enforcement and to help protect the homeland. We developed Info-Cop and Info-Corp (both recognized as Qualified Anti-Terrorism Technologies by DHS under the Safety Act), and then introduced data mining tools (Backtrace) to assist in investigations. GTBM initially invested R&D efforts in the molecular residence detector (MRD) to define and detect molecular signatures for elements found in explosives. When the Opioid Detection Challenge was announced, we recognized that the MRD was one more way to use our developing technologies to defeat an increasing threat to the country.

What sets your opioid detection technology apart from existing solutions?
Once refined and tested, the MRD should adjust to a changing environment. As the composition of imported opioids and other drugs change, the specific signatures associated with those compositions can be added to the library for screening of incoming parcels and mail. Moreover, given the MRD’s relatively small footprint and potential to become a mobile detector, it might easily be used in vulnerable environments beyond the international mail system. We anticipate that the technology can also be used to address incoming threats beyond opioids.

What’s the one thing you wish people knew about the role of your solution in the postal inspection process?
A planned implementation for the postal inspection process would allow for automated screening and focusing manpower resources more efficiently and effectively. The MRD processing speed is already very high and it can be increased as needed to accommodate the volume of parcels and mail. In addition, our MRD system would only require minimal training time for postal inspection staff before deployment

What’s your primary focus during the 14-week prototyping accelerator as you advance your solution?
Our primary focus during the accelerator phase is to define molecular signatures for fentanyl and other opioids and drugs that may be represented in the testing trial. The objective is to create return signatures with a high level of both sensitivity and specificity. Our goal is to produce results with low false positive and false negative rates for each target sample.   

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