from the follow-your-nose dept.
In a study published Monday in the journal Biosensor and Bioelectronics, a group of researchers from Tel Aviv University (via Neuroscience News) said they recently created a robot that can identify a handful of smells with 10,000 times more sensitivity than some specialized electronics. They describe their robot as a bio-hybrid platform (read: cyborg). It features a set of antennae taken from a desert locust that is connected to an electronic system that measures the amount of electrical signal produced by the antennae when they detect a smell. They paired the robot with an algorithm that learned to characterize the smells by their signal output. In this way, the team created a system that could reliably differentiate between eight "pure" odors, including geranium, lemon and marzipan, and two mixtures of different smells. The scientists say their robot could one day be used to detect drugs and explosives.
Dr. Maoz and Prof. Ayali explain: "Man-made technologies still can't compete with millions of years of evolution. One area in which we particularly lag behind the animal world is that of smell perception.
"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 study, we were able to characterize 8 odors, such as geranium, lemon and marzipan, in a way that allowed us to know when the smell of lemon or marzipan was presented. In fact, after the experiment was over, we continued to identify additional different and unusual smells, such as various types of Scotch whiskey.
"A comparison with standard measuring devices showed that the sensitivity of the insect's nose in our system is about 10,000 times higher than the devices that are in use today."
Short YouTube video accompanying the article
Shvil Neta, Golan Ariel, Yovel Yossi, et al., The Locust antenna as an odor discriminator, Biosens Bioelectron, 221, 2023. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bios.2022.114919