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A robot is able to detect smells due to a biological sensor

A team of researchers from Tel Aviv University has developed a robot that can “smell” using a biological sensor. This sensor sends electrical signals as a response to the presence of a nearby odor, which the robot can detect and interpret.

Researchers have successfully connected the biological sensor to an electronic system and, using a machine learning algorithm, were able to identify odors with a level of sensitivity 10,000 times higher than that of a commonly used electronic device. Scientists believe the developed technology can also be used in the future to identify explosives, drugs, diseases, and more.

According to the researchers: "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."

The researchers note that, in general, our sensory organs, such as the eyes, ears and nose, use receptors that identify and distinguish between different signals, as well as those of all other animals. Then, the sensory organ converts the received information into electrical signals, which the brain then decodes. The challenge of biosensors is to connect such a sensory organ as the nose to an electronic system that can decode electrical signals received from receptors.

"We connected the biological sensor and let it smell different odors while we measured the electrical activity that each odor induced. The system allowed us to detect each odor at the level of the insect's primary sensory organ. Then, in the second step, we used machine learning to create a 'library' of smells. In the study, we were able to characterize 8 odors, such as geranium, lemon and marzipan" — said prof. Yovel, one of the scientists in the development team.

In the future, the researchers plan to create a navigation system for the robot that will allow it to localize the odor source and then identify it.