Can Robots really ‘see’ smell?


Can Robots really ‘see’ smell?

Northeastern University’s own biology professor, Joseph Ayers, has dedicated all his time and energy to developing robots that are self-sufficient, i.e, those who would not need algorithms or external controllers to function. Instead of this, these robots would make use of electronic nervous systems that will analyse sensory inputs from its surrounding and perform autonomous activities based on it.

And when he says, “The thing that’s been missing in robotics is a sense of smell,” he plans to deliver what is missing.

“Now people want robots to do group behaviour,” said Ayers. “If you’re doing large field explorations for mines, you want to have 20 or 30 robots out there”. Ayers noted that using the way ants, bees, or termites’ function is perhaps the most effective way to get them to cooperate with each other. He, therefore, wants to copy their specific behavioural patterns in his biomimetic robots. If he wants this to succeed, he will need advanced chemical-inputs sensing devices. He aims to combine microelectronic sensors that can interface with living cells, leading to what Ayers believes, “you can see smell.”


For such thing to happen, however, futuristic devices would be needed – and this is where Ryan Myers enters the picture. He has built one of the world’s best and only e-jet printers for Ayers’ lab. His work has been awarded the interdisciplinary research award at the RISE: 2013 Research, Innovation, Scholarship, and Entrepreneurship Expo.


Ayers believes that “inkjet printing is the industry standard for organic electronics.” This technology has already been shooting up the ladder, developing a new industry of versatile and inexpensive electronics. However, there is a problem that Ayers – the perfectionist – think is serious enough, which can only be solved by electrohydrodynamic. If the technique is incorporated, “we can print many features per cell instead of many cells per feature,” said Ayers. Which means that now the microelectronics can be integrated with biological systems without a fuss.


Ayers’ team is now utilising their time and skills overprinting biocompatible photodiodes, nitric oxide sensors along with photosensors to use in his various projects. And this just happens to be a level up in Ayers’ aim of developing a “social robot.”


Pranjali Wakde

pranjali wakde

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