January 24, 2023

Robot Gains Super Smell, Thanks to Locust Limb

Technology may lead the way in innovation, but nature provides simple and creative solutions. By wiring a robot with a locust antenna, Israeli researchers have created a hybrid device that is essentially a robo-sniffer dog.

Electronic noses have received much attention in recent years, but Mother Nature proves you can’t beat a biological olfactory organ, which led Dr Ben Maoz and his team at the University of Tel Aviv to experiment with combining the antenna of the desert locust with artificial intelligence and electro-antennogram technology.

Their hybrid robot was able to smell different odours while the electrical activity was measured purely through what the antenna picked up for each smell. A library of smells – which included geranium, lemon and marzipan – was created via machine-learning, which was later expanded upon with different whiskeys.

The result was a robotic schnozz that can measure odours on par with animals and insects – for scale, it’s over 10 000 times more sensitive than current, electronic sniffing devices. This heightened olfactory sensitivity can potentially detect explosives, drugs and diseases in a nearby environment with greater ease and clarity.

Maoz gave credit where credit is due, though: “Nature is much more advanced than we are, so we should use it. The principle we have demonstrated can be used and applied to other senses, such as sight and touch.

“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,” he added. “Some animals know how to detect diseases. Others can sense earthquakes. The sky is the limit.”