Robots That Smell

Biomimetic Robot from Vicky Vouloutsi on Vimeo.

As humans, we may take our sense of smell for granted but for many of the other members of the animal kingdom, either land-roaming or water-dwelling, a keen sense of smell serves as an invaluable tool! While cetaceans like dolphins have no sense of smell, some species of fish, such as the salmon, use theirs to guide them back to their native streams or to assist them in maintaining social hierarchy. Most of us are well aware that a dog’s nose could out sniff a human’s any day— particular breeds such as the bloodhound may have a sense of smell that’s more than 10 million times more powerful than ours. A Grizzly bear’s nose is also hard to beat— forget being able to smell the bakery around the corner, these guys can smell food up to 30 km away! And while that’s pretty impressive, imagine catching a whiff of true love in a single gust of wind. Well, we don’t know whether the male silk moth has any interest in true love, but they are in fact, extremely sensitive to the pheromone Bombykol which is released by potential female mates.

The video above features a robot that was developed as part of the European project, NEUROChem, which has been successful in modelling the behavior of the silk moth in a robot. The robot above is pictured searching for the source of an odour plume much the way real moths do. Researchers are working towards applying this type of technology to humanitarian demining, environmental monitoring and search and rescue operations.

At the Centre for Applied Autonomous Sensor Systems (AASS) at Örebro University in Sweden, professor Achim Lilienthal heads the Mobile Robotics and Olfaction Lab. The work at the lab aims to tackle one of the big problems in this area of robotics— getting scent detecting robots  out of the lab and into the real world, where variables such as wind and an unlimited area for gas distribution are difficult to control.

The video below features a robot that was developed a couple years ago at The University of Tokyo. As shown in the video by New Scientist, the mannequin’s head turns upon the detection of specific chemicals. Believe it or not, this robotic head is endowed an organic sensor made of frogs eggs, which act as powerful smell receptors!

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    One thought on “Robots That Smell

    1. This looks like a total breakthrough in cybernetics!
      Maybe after improving such an ability in robots they will be able to analyze human behavior basing on the smell of certain hormones that people usually don’t sense themselves?
      It would be very interesting to know if a robot will be capable to communicate this way.

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