Using the amazing insect-ability to localize an odor source coming from either prey or predators, the researchers decided to direct this skill towards ‘artificial odour tracking.’ They built a robot car that is controlled by an insect, in this case, a moth.
By testing and observing the accuracy of the moth’s sniffing skills, they may be able to implement this into global odour tracking systems – i.e. finding drugs, bombs, and other harmful substances. Sorry airport Labradors.
The car itself has a tiny cockpit where the moth moves around on an air-supported ball, or as Science magazine describes, “a bit like an upside-down computer mouse trackball.”
This moth vehicle adheres to the ball’s movement and goes in the same direction. This allows the moth to drive towards the scent source using their super receptive antennae. The smell used was derived from a silk moth delicacy – female silkworm pheromones.
After seven trials using seven drivers, the tiny pilots hit their mark every time. These findings could significantly improve odour detection systems into robots, and the engineers might even develop better genetically modified moths able to sniff out a range of smells, putting detection pooches of the world into early retirement.