Smellicopter cyber drone detects objects by smell using antennas from live moths

No matter how hard the developers of advanced modern technologies try, they are still far from Mother Nature, who endowed living beings with a variety of organs – and in fact, unique living mechanisms.

The sniffer drone Smellicopter was no exception. To detect objects by smell, engineers at the University of Washington installed a biodevice on it based on the olfactory antennae of a moth.

The antennae antennae were “borrowed” from the tobacco hawk moth. After amputation, scientists inserted the finest wires into each organ, capable of measuring the average signal from all of their cells. Alas, the amputated antenna retains its viability for only four hours. The researchers, however, promise to extend this period by placing the antennae in the refrigerator.

Drone Smellicopter

To test the olfactory abilities of the cybernetic antenna, scientists placed it in a wind tunnel along with a standard odor sensor. The antenna reacted faster to the appearance of a flower odor and the smell of ethanol than the sensor, while it also quickly readjusted from one odor to another.

In the next experiment, the researchers installed the antenna on the quadcopter platform, equipping it with four sensors that respond to obstacles. And finally, an algorithm was used to control the Smellicopter, simulating the search for the desired smells by a moth. For example, a drone, while searching, maneuvers to the left for a certain distance and, if no smell is found, it moves to the right for a while. When the scent is finally found, the drone rushes towards it. And thanks to infrared sensors, the drone reacts to obstacles by turning away from them at a distance of about 20 cm.

The team hopes to find use for the Smellicopter as “hounds” capable of reacting to the smell of explosives or the breath of people trapped under the rubble.

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