This new drug-testing robot is attending its first ever music festival

The machine was developed to ensure the safety of all festival attendees.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The drug-testing robot.jpg
The drug-testing robot.


University of British Columbia (UBC) scientists have created a prototype drug-testing robot and it will be trialed for the first time at a music festival in British Columbia, Canada this weekend.

This is according to a report by Castanet published on Saturday.

The machine is the invention of associate Professor Jason Hein and graduate student Sarah Guzman and was developed with support from Health Canada 

The robot is portable and is equipped with high-performance liquid chromatography.

“We want it to be this something that could be as simple as walking up to a kiosk, dropping off a sample, everything else is taken care of on the back end, and then you've got your answer,” said Hein.

“I think what's really cool about this is, it's lightning in a bottle. It's not that this couldn't have been done, it's just that you need a computer scientist or roboticist, you need that health care, you need that one team at that time that could say, all these skills happened to be in the same lab to do the same thing.”

At the music festival, the machine’s role will be to identify substances in samples in about 15 minutes.

“If it's going to work, it has to go outside the lab, we want to make sure that it can actually go and work in the field. We were looking for an opportunity for somebody to host us. We are their guests, right? They were the ones that said, 'Hey, we'd be interested in seeing this',” Hein added.

“There's the entire health tent with a lot of other more seasoned people that are doing testing as well. They're helping us by all the samples coming through are being cross-checked by the more established techniques so that we know [what works].”

The new invention will tackle a long-standing problem in drug testing first spotted by Guzman.

“The problem she saw in Health Canada was samples would come in and they're just overwhelmed. They might get one or two done. They get samples done, but there's this huge delay where the information comes back to them a couple of weeks later, so it's too late by that point,” Hein explained.

The team has ambitious plans to deploy their program from a dropbox at UBC allowing users to place a sample of any substances they want to be tested for free.

“The device itself is not something that students can just walk up to [yet]. But what they can do is come by our office, they can drop off a sample, put it into a lockbox, and then we will test it as soon as the sample gets registered. So that's probably about a day or so turnaround instead of a couple of minutes,” Hein told Castanet.

“But going forward, if this works well enough, we can imagine building out a system that literally is a kiosk that just lives either on campus or out the community completely sort of something that somebody could walk up to like an ATM.”