Robo Lobster to Sniff Out Mines

January 2, 2002 | Source: Wired News

Teams of sniffer robots may someday scour land and sea, using their artificial snouts to root out mines in places and situations humans would rather avoid.At least this is the goal of a team studying the lobster–a creature considered a paragon of odor analysis–in order to create a robotic version of the lobster’s snout.

“The idea is that evolution has developed the lobster antennule (nose) to do the job very efficiently, and if we can understand how it works, we can replicate it,” said John Crimaldi, assistant professor of engineering at the University of Colorado.

Many objects emit odors that are transported by chemical plumes downstream or downwind. Mass-produced mines are no exception.

“A side impact of the mass production of mines is that they leak TNT, which has an odor–humans can’t smell it, but an appropriate type of sensor could,” Crimaldi said.

The study–a joint effort of Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley and Bowling Green State University–is focused on discovering how the lobster can trace these chemical odor plumes back to their source.