Scientists Used Locust Antennae And Artificial Intelligence To Give A Robot A Sense Of Smell
In recent years, insect technology hybrids have become more common in scientific research, and in some cases outperform electronic noses.
Researchers all over the world are hacking the brains and bodies of insects to create biobots that can do their bidding.
Nature is far more advanced than we are, and we should take advantage of it. Cameras and microphones that match and surpass human vision and sound capabilities exist in 2023.
Despite our technological advances, humans have yet to develop a better nose. After all, evolution has had millions of years to perfect the receptors that humans, animals, and insects use to detect odors. Scientists may have made a breakthrough in this area with the help of nature.
Tel Aviv University researchers recently developed a robot that can identify a handful of smells with 10,000 times the sensitivity of some specialized electronics. They call their robot a bio-hybrid platform.
According to the release, the sensor sends electrical signals in response to a nearby odor, which the robot can detect and interpret.
The biohybrid sensor was developed by using a locust antenna to create a robot with a hypersensitive sense of smell. Dr. Maoz and his colleagues created a robot capable of responding to environmental signals to develop the locust antennae technology.
They discovered a way to keep the locust antenna alive artificially and devised a method for communicating signals received by the antenna to the robot.
First, the researchers linked the biological sensor to an electronic system using a machine learning algorithm, the robot was able to identify orders with high sensitivity.
They then used machine learning to create a smell library, characterizing eight odors such as geranium, lemon, and marzipan. Following the experiment, they were able to add additional smells, allowing the organ to distinguish between different types of whiskey.
Overall, this resulted in a machine with a sensor that is said to be 10,000 times more sensitive than other commonly used electronic noses on the market today, as well as being relatively user-friendly.
According to the study, this paves the way for robust and simple bio-hybrid robotic sensing devices that can be widely deployed in the future.
The researchers believe that if their research is successful, this technology could be used to identify explosives, drugs, diseases, and other substances in the future.
The biological and technological breakthrough was led by doctoral student Neta Shvil of Tel Aviv University’s Sagol School of Neuroscience, Dr. Ben Maoz of the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering and the Sagol School of Neuroscience, and Professor Yossi Yovel and Prof. Amri Ayali of the school of Zoology and Sagol School of Neuroscience.
The study’s findings were published in the prestigious journal Biosensor and Bioelectronics.
According to the researchers, our sensory organs, such as the eye, ear, and nose, as well as those of animals, use receptors that identify and distinguish between different signals.
The sensory organ then converts these discoveries into electrical signals, which are decoded as information.o
Dr. Maoz has long been fascinated by the idea of humans exploiting animals’ biological sense of smell. He noted that humans already do this for instance using sniffer dogs.
However, relying on live animals is high maintenance; they require training, accommodation, feeding, medical care, and other forms of care.
Instead of exploiting animals, Maoz focused on insects. The parts of the insects are so powerful that they could one day replace sniffer dogs and even cameras.
Sniffer dogs, however, are still preferred in policing and security for detecting narcotics, explosives, and missing people. They have also been used in conservation work in the last century, in detecting live wildlife and carcasses.
Dogs are preferred for a variety of reasons, including their superior odor sensitivity when compared to commercially available eNoses.
Smells are primarily determined by volatile organic compounds, which are small molecules with high vapor pressure and thus easily evaporate into a gaseous state. Dogs are extremely sensitive and can detect volatile organic compounds in extremely low contractions.
In 2021, Tel Aviv University researchers connected a locust ear to a robot for the first time, combining robot and biological sensory input.
The 2021 experiment was an example of interdisciplinary engineering, with one lab isolating and characterizing the locust ear and another building the robot and developing code to allow it to respond to electronic auditory signals. The third created an ear on a chip, a device that provides oxygen and food to the locust ear while extracting and amplifying electrical signals from the organ and transmitting them to the robot.
At the time, the researchers concentrated on developing a locust hearing robot because it could be easily compared to existing technologies, whereas smell technologies are less developed and more complex.
This research paves the way for robust and simple bio-hybrid robotic sensing devices that can be widely deployed in the future. What can I say, after millennia of causing crop failures, the pests may finally be useful for something.
In the future, the researchers intend to guide the robot toward navigation, allowing it to locate the source of the odor and later, its identity.
This article first appeared on Engadget.