French researcher Massimo Vergassola at the Pasteur Institute, has taken a lesson from the moth to develop ‘infotaxis’ to track and identify chemical signals.
The simplest approach to locating the source of an odor is chemotaxis – moving in the direction of higher concentration. This doesn’t work for large animals in turbulent air flows; the odor plume is not smoothly consistent from low concentration to higher concentration. A more sophisticated method is needed.
Locating the source of odor in a turbulent environment–a common behavior for living organisms–is nontrivial because of the random nature of mixing. Here we analyze the statistical physics aspects of the problem and propose an efficient strategy for olfactory search that can work in turbulent plumes. The algorithm combines the maximum likelihood inference of the source position with an active search. Our approach provides the theoretical basis for the design of olfactory robots…
Moths employ two distinct methods; “zigzagging” upwind when they have the scent, then “casting,” which is moving crosswind to try to relocate the interrupted scent trail.
Another attempt to visualize sniffer robots and assign them a practical task is found in the 1985 movie Runaway by Michael Crichton. In the film, detectives use a four-legged sniffer robot to find and identify trace compounds at a crime scene (see Crichton’s sniffer robot from Runaway).
Robots are already in the testing stage who are able to detect odors and perform relevant actions. The RI-MAN healthcare robot has a smell-discernment capability, used to detect an incontinent patient. Other research includes the SPOT-NOSED nanobiosensors under development in the European Union.
Finally, a robot that can smell incontinent patients, so we don’t have to . . .
More at Technovelgy . . .