A team from the University of Washington, USA, developed the Smellicopter: a standalone drone that uses a live moth antenna to navigate towards smells. The goal is for the device to reach unstable structures after a natural disaster or a region with unexploded devices, for example.
According communication At the university, the Smellicopter can also sense and avoid obstacles while traveling through the air. The drone uses the moth’s antennae to detect chemicals in its environment.
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“By using a real moth antenna with Smellicopter, we are able to obtain the best of both worlds: the sensitivity of a biological organism on a robotic platform where we can control its movement”, explains Melanie Anderson, one of the authors of the study and a doctoral student in mechanical engineering at UW.
The team used Manduca’s sixth hawkmoth antennas on the Smellicopter. The researchers placed moths in the refrigerator to anesthetize them before removing an antenna. Once separated from the living moth, the antenna remains biologically active for up to four hours. This time interval can be extended at low temperatures.
To create the Smellicopter, the team added the antenna sensor to a drone platform. The researchers also added two pieces of plastic to the back of the drone to create resistance and help it to be constantly oriented against the wind.
The team further explained that the Smellicopter does not need GPS. The drone uses a camera to inspect its surroundings, similar to the way insects use their eyes. This makes the Smellicopter suitable for exploring indoor or underground spaces. Check out the operation in the video below (in English).
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