LABRADOR soon to sniff out graves around the world
Technology developed over decades at the UT body farm that gained nationwide attention during the Casey Anthony trial could soon be in the hands of law enforcement all over the world.
ORNL scientist Dr. Arpad Vass is the inventor of the LABRADOR, a device that detects the odor of human decomposition, similar to what cadaver dogs are trained to do. He testified in a Florida court last year that his technology found that type of odor in the trunk of Anthony's car where prosecutors said she put the body of her daughter, Caylee.
Anthony was ultimately found not guilty of killing her daughter, but the trial highlighted just how valuable that tool could be.
Jason Readle is a research and development engineer for Agile technologies, the Knoxville company that bought the rights to the LABRADOR patent from ORNL for $70,000 up front and 5 percent of the gross sales.
"It's cool to be involved in a product development like this. Hopefully in a year or so we'll see what we started with, what our ideas were and see it in somebody's hands using it. It will be great," Readle said.
His job is to take ORNL's prototype, which was similar to a metal detector, and refine it into a product that can be mass-produced and sold to law enforcement agencies to find buried bodies.
"It's something that can really help people. I think it could bring closure and help put away people away who have committed these crimes," Readle said.
The current version of the LABRADOR is a modified leaf blower.
"Now all the weight is in the back and there's very little on your arm, so just in terms of being able to use it for extended periods, like over the course of a search, should be much easier on a user," Readle explained.
The finished product, though, will be much more durable.
He still has a lot of work to do, and fast. His boss, Agile Technologies founder Keith Vaigneur, wants to start selling it this fall.
"A ballpark number would be in the $20-25,000 range," Vaigneur said.
He sees many future uses for the technology, like finding the victims of natural disasters or events like the 9-11 attacks.
"Disasters that we've seen in the news where there's a major effort to locate human remains that are buried by debris," Vaigneur said.
Law enforcement officers from near and far are anxious to try it out.
"A lot of times you won't be able to take the case to court or make charges against a suspect until you have the body, so finding the body is probably the most crucial piece of evidence you need," said Donna Kelley, a 31-year veteran of the Knoxville Police Department. She's now program manager for the Law Enforcement Innovation Center in Oak Ridge, which trains investigators from all over the world.
"We've had so many inquiries. When's it going to be available? Will it be available to us? We need it! Everybody has at least one case in their mind that this technology could help us solve this case," Kelley said.
Dr. Vass had this to say about licensing the LABRADOR technology, "I have spent the last 25 years trying to help locate victims and give their families closure. I can only imagine what a terrible ordeal it must be not knowing what happened to your child or family member. I have always thought that an instrument that can detect the odor of decomposition would be a valuable tool for law enforcement. Thanks to Agile Technologies, this dream is becoming a reality."