In a first, scientists create a robot that can smell
A team of researchers from Tel Aviv University has developed a robot with a sense of smell. It was created by combining antennae taken from desert locusts with an electronic system, and artificial intelligence tools were used for signal analysis. According to the study, the robot can identify smells with 10,000 times more sensitivity than commonly used electronic devices.
Why does this story matter?
- According to the team, this robot is claimed to be a "scientific first." However, they agree that man-made technologies are no match for the biological olfactory senses which are robust, versatile, and sensitive.
- It is worth mentioning that scientists have also developed surgically altered locusts in order to detect cancer. In 2016, researchers also attempted to use locusts to sniff out explosives.
How is the robot able to detect smells?
The locust antenna, which plays the role of a biological sensor, sends electrical signals in response to a nearby smell, which the robot can detect and interpret. The sensor was connected to the electronic system by using a machine-learning algorithm. According to the research team, this system can one day be used to detect explosives, drugs, and even diseases.
The robot could detect lemons, marzipan, and geranium
The robot could differentiate between at least eight "pure odors," which include geranium, lemon and marzipan, and two mixtures of different odorants, irrespective of the concentration of the odorant. "In fact, after the experiment was over, we continued to identify additional different and unusual smells, such as various types of Scotch whiskey," said Professor Yossi Yovel, who was a part of the study.
Biosensors have certain challenges
Our sensory organs, like the eye, ear, and nose, use receptors to recognize and differentiate between different signals. These are then translated into electrical signals, which the brain interprets as information. The challenge of biosensors lies in the connection of a sensory organ, like the nose, to an electronic system, that understands how to decode electrical signals received from the receptors.
Robots with a biological nose might help preserve human life
"For example, some animals have amazing abilities to detect explosives or drugs; the creation of a robot with a biological nose could help us preserve human life and identify criminals in a way that is not possible today," said Dr. Ben Maoz, from Sagol School of Neuroscience. "Some animals know how to detect diseases. Others can sense earthquakes. The sky is the limit."
The team intends to develop the robot with navigation abilities
The principle used in the current study could be applied to other senses, such as sight and touch, as well. In the future, researchers intend on giving the robot the ability to navigate which would allow it to localize the odor source and its identity.