Robots are getting more sophisticated every year. Whether they are installing parts on an assembly line, helping surgeons perform complicated operations, or cleaning your home’s hardwood floors, robots have become integrated into our everyday lives, offering skills and senses that far surpass those of humans. Cameras allow these electronic marvels to see further and with greater clarity than the human eye, and microphones permit our composite counterparts to hear the softest whisper and record it perfectly. The one talent that has eluded robots is the ability to smell. Until now.
Researchers at Tel Aviv University have used a biological sensor to allow a robot to smell. Here’s how it works. The sensor is connected to an electronic system, and a machine learning algorithm is utilized to identify odors. This process offers sensitivities 10,000 times greater than other electronic devices.
In a recent quote, Prof. Yossi Yovel, one of the researchers on the project, said, “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, 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.”