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2023-01-18

Israeli scientists have developed a robot capable of "smelling"

A new development of Tel Aviv University allowed the robot to smell with the help of a biological sensor. The sensor sends electrical signals in response to the presence of an odor, which the robot can detect and interpret.

In a new study, scientists successfully connected a biological sensor to an electronic system and, using a machine learning algorithm, 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 in light of the success of their research, this technology can be used in the future to identify explosives, drugs, diseases and much more.

The study was conducted under the supervision of doctoral student Neta Shvil, Dr. Ben Maoz, as well as Professor Yossi Yovel and Professor Amir Ayali. The results have been published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

Dr. Maoz and Professor Ayali explain: "Man-made technologies still cannot compete with millions of years of evolution. One of the areas in which we are particularly lagging behind the animal world is the perception of odors. An example of this is the airport, where we pass through a magnetometer that costs millions of dollars and can determine whether we have metal objects. But when they want to check if a passenger is carrying drugs, they bring a dog to sniff him. In the animal world, insects are perfectly able to receive and process sensory signals. A mosquito, for example, can detect a 0.01% difference in the level of carbon dioxide in the air. Today we are far from creating sensors whose capabilities approach those of insects."

The researchers note that, in general, our sensory organs, such as eyes, ears and nose, like all other animals, use receptors that detect and distinguish different signals. The sensory organ then converts these signals into electrical signals, which the brain decodes as information. The complexity of biosensors lies in connecting a sensory organ, for example, the nose, with an electronic system that knows how to decode electrical signals received from receptors.

Professor Yovel says: "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. During the study, we were able to characterize 8 smells, such as geranium, lemon and marzipan. After the end of the experiment, we continued to identify additional different and unusual smells, such as different types of Scotch whiskey. Comparison with standard measuring instruments has shown that the sensitivity of the insect's nose in our system is about 10,000 times higher than that of the devices that are used today."

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."

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