This is the seventh 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 James Connelly from the IDSS team. The company’s solution combines a 3D X-ray computed tomography (CT) scanner with automated detection algorithms. It detects anomalies in X-ray images based on the scanned item’s features and physical properties.

What inspired you to enter the Opioid Detection Challenge?
In 2017, approximately 50,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses. Most Americans have family members, friends, or co-workers who have been touched by the epidemic. IDSS believes in bringing technology forward to make the world a safer place and we wanted to have the opportunity to assist in attacking a crisis that is affecting the main streets and backroads of our society.

What sets your opioid detection technology apart from existing solutions?
The proposed solution pairs high-resolution and high-speed 3D X-ray CT imaging with automated detection algorithms to target opioids of interest. The same underlying technology has proven successful for high-throughput screening of baggage in airports and can be adapted to fit the application needs at mail inspection facilities. The proposed technology is fast and robust against clutter or chemical contamination, and can scan whole parcel bags as well as individual parcel items.

What’s the one thing you wish people knew about the role of your solution in the postal inspection process?
Our solution has the capability to automatically scan whole parcel bags or individual parcels.  The nonintrusive scanning is safer for the inspection staff, who do not need to open items to inspect them. Images can be saved to provide scientific evidence of the opioid presence for law enforcement purposes.

What’s your primary focus during the 14-week prototyping accelerator as you advance your solution?
We’ll focus on the following activities: (a) better understanding the operations at mail inspection facilities and optimizing the proposed solution accordingly; (b) collecting data representative of illicit opioids as well as legitimate parcels; and (c) optimizing automated detection algorithms that could maximize opioid detection and minimize false-alarm rates.

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