Scientists Build a Better Robotic Nose

By Hamodia Staff

YERUSHALAYIM – Israeli scientists have developed technology that enables a robot to smell using a biological sensor which sends electrical signals as a response to the presence of a nearby odor, which the robot can detect and interpret.

The research team at Tel Aviv University connected the sensor to an electronic system and using a machine learning algorithm, the robot was able to identify odors with a level of sensitivity 10,000 times higher than that of a commonly used electronic device. They envisage future applications in the identification of explosives, drugs, diseases, and more.

TAU’s Dr. Ben Maoz and Prof. Amir Ayali explain why they looked to a biological mechanism: “Man-made technologies can’t compete with…the smell perception of animals. An example of this can be found at the airport where we go through a magnetometer that costs millions of dollars and can detect if we are carrying any metal devices.

“But when they want to check if a passenger is smuggling drugs, they bring in a dog to sniff him. In the animal world, insects excel at receiving and processing sensory signals. A mosquito, for example, can detect a 0.01 percent difference in the level of carbon dioxide in the air. Today, we are far from producing sensors whose capabilities come close to those of insects.”

In the TAU study, the technology was able to characterize 8 odors, such as geranium, lemon and marzipan, as well as various types of Scotch whiskey.

“The principle we have demonstrated can be used and applied to other senses, such as sight and touch,” said Dr. Maoz. “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. Some animals know how to detect diseases. Others can sense earthquakes. The sky is the limit.”

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