Tel Aviv University Scientists Have Developed a Robot that can Smell

A new technology has been developed by scientists of Tel Aviv University (TAU) that enables robots to use a biological sensor for smelling.

This goal was accomplished by the team when they figured out how to use sensors of real insects for detecting odors nearby and transmitting them to computers as electrical signals for interpreting and identifying them.

The technology

One of the researchers who led to the biological and technological breakthrough was Dr. Ben Maoz of Tel Aviv University.

Talking about human-developed devices, he said that they had very limited ability when it comes to using electrical sensors to smell.

He said that while microphones are good for identifying sounds and cameras can do the same with light, but there are no such electronic tools available for identification of smell.

He said that the technology they were using was very straightforward. It involved using the biological ‘nose’ of an insect as a sensor.

He said that they were using two electrodes for integrating this biological nose with the robot. Another project researcher, Amir Ayali said that the use of this bio-hybrid approach was a major step in technology’s evolution.

He said that it would be helpful for people in overcoming obstacles that may appear to be challenging, such as development of olfactory sensors.


According to Maoz, the sense of smell is very important for insects because they use it for survival purposes. They use it for smelling flowers and predators.

He went on to say that the electronical tools available today are not even close to having any such capabilities.

The team that worked on the project included Maoz, Ayali, a doctoral student of Tel Aviv University Neta Shvil and Professor Yossi Yovel.

Their goal was to use the antenna of the insects for using it as a sensor to identify smell. Maoz asserted that humanity could benefit from this development in numerous ways.

The benefits

He highlighted that it could be used for identifying illegal, or dangerous substances at the airport. He said that magnetometers were used for metal detection, but animals have to be used for smelling explosives and drugs.

The smelling capabilities of animals are extremely sensitive, which can be used for identification of explosives, drugs and rotten food.

Maoz said that some animals also have the capability of identifying diseases. He said that they had used insect sensors rather than animals for the technology.

Ayali said that insects are often given preference in terms of bio-inspired technological innovations because they are the biggest group of living organisms and have different characteristics that can benefit such technologies.

He said that they can be used for diverse adaptations because they live in different environments. He also added that they were beneficial for technological development because they are agile, small and fast-moving.

Ayali added that the Tel Aviv University scientists had opted to use them because their sensors are lightweight, small, easy to dissect and also efficient in terms of energy.

He also said that the sensors were robust and extremely sensitive.

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