Challenge Updates

Challenge Updates

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

On August 1, 2019, the DHS Science and Technology Directorate announced three finalists for the first stage of the $250,000 Escape Respirator Challenge. The Challenge sought new concepts for an escape respirator for use by DHS personnel and first responders.

The first stage of the Challenge called upon the innovation community to submit relevant, useable, effective and feasible concepts that provide oxygen and protect the user against aerosolized CBR hazards. Each finalist will receive $50,000 to expand their concepts and develop working prototypes and advance to Stage II where they will demonstrate their prototypes and compete for a final cash prize of $100,000.

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 this Challenge. Visit the Escape Respirator Challenge website for more details about DHS S&T’s technology design specifications.

Visit for challenge details.

Past Prize Challenges

For information on past prize challenges follow the below links:

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