A team of researchers from Israel’s Tel Aviv University are imbuing robots with the sense of smell using a biological sensor.

According to the Tel Aviv team, the sensor sends electrical signals as a response when it detects and interprets a nearby odor.

Source: Tel Aviv UniversitySource: Tel Aviv University

To accomplish this, the biological sensor was connected to an electronic system. Further, the team also employed a machine learning algorithm to identify odors with a level of sensitivity reportedly 10,000 times higher than currently used electronic devices.

To determine the effectiveness of the biological sensor, researchers connected the sensor to an electronic system in the lab, letting it smell different odors while measuring the electrical activity response produced by each odor. Machine learning was then used to build a so-called library of smells.

As such, the team was able to characterize eight odors — lemon, marzipan and geranium, among others — which enabled the sensor to recognize when one of those smells was present.

The researchers suggest that the technology could lead the way toward robots that can be used to detect drugs, explosives or diseases in the future.

An article detailing the technology, The Locust antenna as an odor discriminator, appears in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

For more information on the technology, watch the accompanying video that appears courtesy of Tel Aviv University.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com