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NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – On patrol through a small neighborhood of old trailer homes, there was a clue something was wrong. We couldn’t see it, or smell it — but the car we were in could.

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Dr. Guido Verbeck and a team from the University of North Texas are now perfecting what they think will be the next high-tech tool in law enforcement — and the tool is built into an electric, Ford sedan.

“The car could just drive by it and keep moving down the road,” said Verbeck. “It’ll alert the officers there’s something going on at the house, and where the location is.”

Eight months ago, the project was focused on measuring air quality. Then the team realized what they built, with partner company INFICON in Syracuse, New York, was more sensitive than they ever imagined. To calibrate the device the team had to travel to Antarctica, in a pocket of the cleanest air in the world.

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They made it rugged, as well as mobile. And instead of deciphering complicated data results, they created software so an officer is able to see not just what’s in the air, but where.

In testing, the car has picked up chemical signatures from about a quarter mile away from the source.

“The operator, or the tactical person using it, does not have to know anything about mass spec, they just know that this is bad,” Verbeck said.

The latest version is shrunk down small enough to fit inside a case, with the goal to not only have law enforcement use it in other states, but other countries.

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