The ‘smellicopter’ drone makes use of an actual moth antenna to detect odors
The antenna remains biologically and chemically active for up to four hours after it is removed from the living moth. However, the researchers said that refrigerated storage could extend this.
Thomas Daniel, a professor of biology at the University of Washington, one of Anderson’s supervisors, said the graduate student was an “exceptionally creative” and dedicated graduate who wanted to explore the interface between living and engineering systems.
He said Anderson used her training in biology and robotics to develop the smellicopter.
“Melanie was able to develop an ultralight system that uses the best of both worlds – the superior sensory capabilities of living systems and the engineering and precision associated with standard small robotic flight systems,” Daniel told create.
Search for fragrances
To search for smells, the team created a “cast and surge” protocol for the smellicopter, which mimics how moths search for smells.
The drone begins its search by moving a set distance to the left.
If nothing exceeds a certain odor threshold, the smellicopter moves the same distance to the right.
As soon as it detects an odor, it changes its flight pattern to approach it.
Thanks to four infrared sensors that measure what is around it ten times per second, the smellicopter can also detect and avoid obstacles.
If something is within about 8 inches of the drone, it will change direction by moving to the next stage of its cast and surge log.
The smellicopter uses a live moth antenna to detect odors. (Image: Mark Stone / University of Washington)
“So if Smellicopter has thrown to the left and there is now an obstacle on the left, it changes to the right,” said Anderson.
“And if the Smellicopter smells a smell but there is an obstacle in front of it, it will keep throwing to the left or right until it can shoot forward if there is no obstacle in its path.”
In laboratory tests, the smellicopter flew towards smells that moths find interesting, such as B. floral scents.
However, the researchers hope to one day be able to use moth antennas to detect other smells, such as carbon dioxide exhaled by someone trapped under debris or the chemical signature of a device that has not exploded.
“The ‘North Star’ is the development of bio-hybrid systems that dogs can replace as detectors for threats, diseases, odors and more,” said Daniel.
“[The] The next steps include an in-depth study of the molecular basis of sensing – including the use of CRISPR technologies. “
Daniel said the future was bright.
“Even an occasional literature search suggests that there is an explosion of efforts connecting the best living systems to engineering technologies,” he said.