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Robots with Biological Sensors: A Breakthrough in Odor Detection

In a groundbreaking development, scientists at Tel Aviv University have enabled a robot to smell using a biological sensor. This sensor sends electrical signals in response to the presence of an odor, which the robot can detect and interpret, opening new frontiers in odor detection capabilities.

The study, led by doctoral student Neta Shvil, Dr. Ben Maoz, Professor Yossi Yovel, and Professor Amir Ayali, successfully connected a biological sensor to an electronic system. Using a machine learning algorithm, they were able to detect odors with a sensitivity level 10,000 times higher than that of a commonly used electronic device.

The researchers believe that this technology can be used in the future to identify explosives, drugs, diseases, and much more, revolutionizing the way we approach detection and identification tasks.

Dr. Maoz and Professor Ayali explain that man-made technologies still cannot compete with millions of years of evolution, particularly in the perception of odors. For instance, insects can detect minute changes in the level of carbon dioxide in the air, a capability far beyond our current sensors.

The complexity of biosensors lies in connecting a sensory organ, such as the nose, with an electronic system that can decode electrical signals received from receptors. The researchers have successfully bridged this gap, creating a system that allows for the detection of various odors at the level of an insect's primary sense organ.

During the study, the team characterized eight smells, such as geranium, lemon, and marzipan. After the experiment, they continued to identify additional different and unusual smells, such as various types of Scotch whiskey. Comparisons with standard measuring instruments showed that the sensitivity of the insect's nose in their system is about 10,000 times higher than that of the devices used today.

Professor Yovel states, "We connected a biological sensor and let it smell various odors, while simultaneously measuring the electrical activity that each smell caused. The system allowed us to detect every smell at the level of the insect's primary sense organ. Then, in the second stage, we used machine learning to create a 'library' of smells."

Dr. Maoz concludes, "Nature is much more developed than we are, so we have to use it. The principle we have demonstrated can be used and applied to other senses, such as sight and touch. For example, some animals have amazing abilities to detect explosives or drugs; creating a robot with a biological nose could help us save human life and identify criminals in a way that is impossible today. Some animals can recognize diseases. Others can feel earthquakes."

In conclusion, the development at Tel Aviv University showcases the potential of robots in odor detection. By hiring robots equipped with this technology, businesses and organizations can enhance their detection capabilities, improving safety, security, and operational efficiency.

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