To research and evaluate the capabilities of a robot that could effectively track certain smells, researchers at the University of Tokyo created a two-wheeled robot controlled by a male silkmoth. The robot was driven by the moth as it tracked down the sex pheromone usually given off by a female.
These tests were conducted to characterize the silkmoth’s tracking behaviors and it is hoped that in the future these could be applied to other autonomous robots so they can track down the source of environmental spills and leaks when fitted with highly sensitive sensors. Further evaluations of the insect-controlled robot will provide a ‘blueprint’ for these biomimetic, scent-tracking robots.
Gizmag reports that the tests with the moth took place in a wind tunnel with a pheromone source at one end. The mobile robot started at the other end, downwind of the pheromones. The silkmoth was suspended over an air-floated polystyrene ball that spun when the moth moved its legs towards the scent.
An optical mouse sensor detected these movements and steered the robot in the direction the moth wanted to go. Fourteen male silkmoths were tested in total and all of them were able to guide the robot to the pheromone source.
The researchers’ results have been published in the journal ‘Bioinspiration and Biomimetics‘ and the short video below shows some of the moths being tested: