Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a robot that they claim can ‘smell’ odours through use of a biological sensor.
The system works by using a sensor to send electrical signals as a response to the presence of a nearby odour, which the robot can detect and interpret.
In the study, the researchers connected the biological sensor to an electronic system and, using a machine learning algorithm, were reportedly able to identify odours with a level of sensitivity 10,000 times higher than that of a conventional electronic device.
The researchers believe this technology could be used for applications in explosives, drugs, diseases and more.
The project was led by doctoral student Neta Shvil of Tel Aviv University’s Sagol School of Neuroscience, Dr. Ben Maoz of the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering and the Sagol School of Neuroscience, and Prof. Yossi Yovel and Prof. Amir Ayali of the School of Zoology and the Sagol School of Neuroscience.
The results of the study were published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.
Dr. Maoz and Prof. Ayali said: “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.”
The researchers point out that humans’ sensory organs use receptors that identify and distinguish between different signals. The sensory organ then translates these findings into electrical signals, which the brain processes as information.
One of the key challenges of biosensors is connecting a sensory organ, like the nose, to an electronic system that can successfully decode the electrical signals it receives from receptors.