Through prize competitions DHS has sought the inspiration of citizens to find creative solutions to tough problems that require a variety of perspectives.
Challenges Under Way
Opioid Detection Challenge
Illicit opioids such as fentanyl have created an unprecedented public health crisis across the United States. In 2017, approximately 50,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses. International mail — through both USPS and express consignment — has been identified as a route for illicit opioids entering the U.S., commonly transported in nearly pure, powdered form. Consequently, large-scale drug trafficking can occur via very small packages sent in the mail.
In February 2019, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) launched a $1.55M multi-stage prize competition for rapid, non-intrusive detection tools that would help find illicit opioids in international mail.
In Stage 1, the Challenge called for well-developed plans for automated, user-friendly tools and technologies that had 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. From those submissions eight finalists were chosen, each received $100,000 in cash prizes and advanced to Stage 2 of the competition. In Stage 2, finalists participated in a 14-week prototyping accelerator, where they developed their plans into testable prototypes, culminating in a live test event, where finalists convened at the DHS Transportation Security Laboratory in Atlantic City, New Jersey for on-site testing of their prototypes and competed for an additional $750,000 in cash prizes.
On December 12, 2019, DHS S&T announced the grand prize winner and runner-up in the Opioid Detection Challenge. IDSS received the grand prize of $500,000 for its detection solution, which combines a 3D X-ray computed tomography (CT) scanner with automated detection algorithms. The runner-up, One Resonance, received $250,000 for its detection solution, the QROD system, which is a quadrupole resonance technology that uses radio-frequency signals to search for specific materials.
S&T and its government partners plan to continue working with the providers of the most promising solutions to further develop prototypes and establish follow-on production agreements. The government plans to deploy these tools in international mail facilities, express consignment facilities, and other environments across the country that call for rapid, accurate detection of opioids and related substances.
Escape Respirator Challenge
In December 2018, the DHS Science and Technology Directorate launched the $250,000 Escape Respirator Challenge. The challenge invited the innovation community to develop a compact, discreetly-carried escape respirator that can be used quickly for safe egress from smoke-filled, oxygen-deficient, and chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) environments. Although commercial solutions for escape hoods or respirators exist, most currently-available models lack an oxygen delivery mechanism for respiratory protection when worn in an oxygen-deficient environment, such as a smoke-filled room. They also do not have the small form factor, in packaging or weight reduction, sought through the Challenge.
The first stage of the competition called upon the innovation community to submit relevant, useable, effective and feasible concepts for an escape respirator that provides oxygen and protects the user against aerosolized CBR hazards. From the initial submissions, three finalists were selected and each received $50,000 to expand their concepts and develop prototypes for demonstration in front of an interagency panel of judges.
In January 2020, the judges determined Elmridge Protection Products, LLC as the $100,000 grand prize winner for their iEvac E700 Mini-ReBreather concept. The concept involves delivery of a controlled flow of oxygen from a generator to a sealed hood with an oral-nasal mask and integrated carbon dioxide scrubber.
S&T plans to continue working with the Challenge finalists to further develop prototypes.
Past Prize Challenges
For information on past prize challenges follow the below links: