Sniffer dogs, beware: Scientists give robot a sense of smell | Science & Tech News

Groundbreaking research has given a robot a sense of smell that will put sniffing dogs everywhere to fear for nothing.

Researchers at Israel’s Tel Aviv University have created a biological sensor that allows machines to detect and recognize odors.

The breakthrough came thanks to the natural world, as the team took advantage of locusts’ ability to pick up and interpret scents through their antennae.

The desert locust’s antennae were connected to an electronic system that uses machine learning to detect and measure odors with a level of sensitivity normally found only in animals and insects.

“Man-made technologies still cannot withstand millions of years of evolution,” the researchers said.

“One area in which we are notably behind the animal world is the sense of smell.

“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 see if a passenger is smuggling drugs, they bring in a dog to sniff it out.”

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Sniffer dogs have also been used to detect the coronavirus.

How does the sensor work?

Basically it aims to mimic how our sense organs – like the nose and ears – can pick up different signals.

When this happens, they are translated into electrical signals to be decoded by the brain – allowing us to recognize exactly what different smells and noises are.

This part of the process was the most difficult for the Tel Aviv team – connecting the biological sensor, in this case the locust’s antennae, to an electronic system that could decode the signals.

Yusi Yuval, professor at the university’s School of Zoology, explained: “We attached the biological sensor and let it smell different odors while we measured the electrical activity generated by each odor.

“The system allowed us to detect each odor at the level of the insect’s primary sensory organ.

“Then, in a second step, we used machine learning to create a ‘library’ of smells.”

Among the aromas the sensor could highlight were lemon, marzipan and Scotch whiskey varieties.

The sensor was added to a robot, giving it its own “biological nose.”

It is hoped that such a machine will one day be developed in settings such as airports and other places, to help identify explosives, drugs and diseases.

The findings are published in the journal Biosensor and Bioelectronics.

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