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Doing drugs? Beware this fingerprinting device

Handheld fingerprint drug testing tech being developed in the U.K. debuts in prototype form. Full production could begin next year.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore

A U.K. company is now unveiling what it calls the world's first prototype handheld device that doubles as a fingerprint scanner and drug testing device.

The prototype device should go into full production in 2012 Intelligent Fingerprinting

In a matter of minutes, the portable device can detect the presence of a wide range of drugs using dyed antibodies that, as we reported back in July, stick to metabolites in the sweat of the fingerprints and change color depending on the presence of drugs.

"The launch of this prototype is a significant milestone," Paul Yaltes of development firm Intelligent Fingerprinting said in a statement. "There has already been considerable worldwide interest in the use of the technology for testing within a wide range of applications, including criminal justice forensic science, homeland security, and institutional testing such as prisons and workplaces."

The device uses disposable cartridges to test for illicit drugs and other substances, ranging from cannabis and cocaine to nicotine. The firm describes the imaging of the print as containing a "watertight chain of evidence continuity" that is almost impossible to cheat.

The prototype, scheduled to go into full production in 2012, is going to be a dream for drug testers. Not only is it fast, but it involves no special handling training or biohazard precautions.

I can see it now. A future app for parents who grow suspicious after every broken curfew. One thing's for sure: the street price of clean urine is about to plummet.