Today the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced eight finalists in the $1.55 million global Opioid Detection Challenge. Their novel plans for detecting opioids in international mail tap a range of cutting-edge technologies, from machine learning to hyperspectral imaging to X-ray diffraction. Each finalist will receive $100,000 in cash prizes and advance to Stage 2 of the competition.

Congratulations to our eight finalists:

  • Atomic-level Drug Detection (Dynaxion): A solution to use high-frequency radio waves in a particle accelerator technology developed by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (known as CERN). As neutrons and gamma rays pass through parcels, the solution analyzes the energy spectra produced.
  • Automated Multimodal Opioid Detection (Battelle): A layered approach to opioid detection. Machine learning algorithms are applied to images captured through dual-energy radiography and hyperspectral imaging.
  • Enhanced X-ray Diffraction (HALO X-ray Technologies): A solution to detect the presence of opioids by measuring how X-rays are diffracted when they pass through a parcel. By emitting the X-rays in a conical structure, this solution generates a stronger signal and improves the accuracy and speed of detection.
  • Nonimaging Concealed Drug Detector (One Resonance): A quadrupole resonance technology that uses radio-frequency signals to search for specific materials. An alarm is triggered when a signal associated with an illicit substance is detected.
  • Noninvasive Detection Using Molecular Signatures (GTBM, Inc.): A solution to use 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.
  • NQR Detection of Nitrogen-Containing Substances (Vadum, Inc.): A nuclear quadrupole resonance (NQR) technology that emits radio-frequency pulses to detect specific nitrogen-containing molecules. Illicit substances resonate at different frequencies, allowing detection of targeted compounds.
  • Operator-free X-ray Diffraction (XID, LLC): An energy dispersive X-ray diffraction (EDXRD) technology that uses a polychromatic beam to increase signal strength and detection speed. Diffraction patterns are compared with a library of known threats.
  • Scanner and Algorithms for Automatic Opioid Detection (IDSS Holdings): A solution that 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.

Stage 1 called for well-developed plans for automated, user-friendly tools and technologies that have the potential to quickly and accurately detect opioids in parcels, without disrupting the flow of mail. The Challenge received 83 submissions from U.S. and international innovators. Our judging panel of experts in forensic science, postal operations, drug interdiction, industrial engineering, and artificial intelligence helped select eight finalists, according to the selection criteria.

What’s next for the finalists

These eight teams will join the 14-week prototyping accelerator, during which they will work closely with the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) to develop their plans into testable prototypes. Government and industry mentors will provide tailored support to the finalists on topics such as the inspection process, trace detection, artificial intelligence, and user design as the teams advance their plans.

Stage 2 will culminate in a live test event hosted by DHS, where the finalists’ prototypes will be tested on-site at a government facility. The Challenge will award one $500,000 grand prize and one $250,000 runner-up prize.

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