Drones

Smellicopter Tiny Drone makes use of moth antenna to search out smells

Meet the smellicopter. Smellicopter is a tiny drone developed by scientists at the University of Washington that can detect smells like gas leaks, explosives, or even the survivors of a natural disaster. This amazing obstacle that UAVs avoid does not use an artificial sensor to smell: it uses a moth antenna to navigate in the direction of a smell.

A research paper published in IOP Science describes Smellicopter as “a bio-hybrid odor-controlled autonomous palm-sized aircraft”. The advantages of such a vehicle are obvious: the tiny drone can travel to places that humans cannot or shouldn’t: the rubble of buildings after a natural disaster; Zones where chemical leaks or spills may have occurred; or conflict zones that may contain chemical or explosive weapons.

The really unique aspect of this amazing little drone is the use of a moth antenna: tiny, delicate and amazingly delicate.

Caption: A team led by the University of Washington has developed Smellicopter: an autonomous drone that uses a moth’s live antenna to navigate towards scents. By adding tiny wires to either end of the antenna (the arc attached here), the researchers were able to hook it up to a circuit and record their reactions to a touch of floral scent. Photo credit: Mark Stone / University of Washington

“Nature really blows our man-made odor sensors out of the water,” said lead author Melanie Anderson, a UW graduate student in mechanical engineering. “By using a moth antenna with a smellicopter, we can get the best of both worlds: the sensitivity of a biological organism on a robot platform on which we can control its movement.”

Caption: A team led by the University of Washington has developed Smellicopter: an autonomous drone that uses a moth’s live antenna to navigate towards scents. Smellicopter can also detect and avoid obstacles on its way through the air. Here a Hawkmoth can be seen in front of the smellicopter.
Photo credit: Mark Stone / University of Washington

Miriam McNabb is editor-in-chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a marketplace for professional drone services, and a fascinating observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has authored over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For advice or writing on the drone industry, email Miriam.

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