Insect drives robot to track down smells (w/ video)

Feb 05, 2013
This is a close-up shot of the insect-driven robot, presented in Bioinspirtation and Biomimetics. Credit: Dr Noriyasu Ando

A small, two-wheeled robot has been driven by a male silkmoth to track down the sex pheromone usually given off by a female mate.

The robot has been used to characterise the silkmoth's tracking behaviours and it is hoped that these can be applied to other so they can track down smells, and the subsequent sources, of environmental spills and leaks when fitted with highly sensitive sensors.

The results have been published today, 6 February, in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

The male silkmoth was chosen as the 'driver' of the robot due to its characteristic 'mating dance' when reacting to the sex pheromone of the female. Once the male is stimulated by the pheromone it exhibits a distinctive walking pattern: straight-line and zigzagged walking consisting of several turns followed by a loop of more than 360°.

Lead author of the research, Dr Noriyasu Ando, said: "The simple and robust tracking behaviour of the silkmoth allows us to analyse its from the level of a single neuron to the moth's overall behaviour. By creating an 'artificial brain' based on the knowledge of the silkmoth's individual neurons and tracking behaviour, we hope to implement it into a that will be equal to the insect-controlled robot developed in this study."

The researchers, from the University of Tokyo, attached the silkmoth to a free-moving ball at the front of the robot which was used for overall control, much like the ball in a .

Two 40 millimetre fans were attached at the front to divert the pheromone-containing air to the on-board moth – the researchers believe the fans are comparable to the wings of the silkmoth that flap to generate across its .

This is a close-up of the insect-driven robot, presented in Bioinspirtation and Biomimetics. Credit: Dr Noriyasu Ando

A 1800 millimetre was used in the experiments; the pheromone and robot were placed at opposite ends. Fourteen silkmoths were used in the study and all of them were able to successfully guide the robot towards the source.

The researchers also introduced a turning bias to the experiments, changing the power of one of the robot's two motors so it veered towards one side when moving. This put the silkmoth into an extraordinary situation and required it to adapt and change its behaviour.

"The best way to elicit adaptive behaviours of insects is to put them into extraordinary situations. The turning bias in our study is analogous to a situation in which we try to ride unbalanced bicycles. We need training to ride such bicycles smoothly but the silkmoth overcomes the situation with only simple and fast sensory-motor feedbacks," said Dr Ando.

It is important that the chemical sensors attached to a potential robot have a short response and processing time when tracking down odours continuously, which is why the researchers also investigated the effect of a time delay between the movement of the silkmoth and the response of the motor.

"Most chemical sensors, such as semiconductor sensors, have a slow recovery time and are not able to detect the temporal dynamics of odours as insects do. Our results will be an important indication for the selection of sensors and models when we apply the insect sensory-motor system to artificial systems," continued Dr Ando.

Explore further: New RFID technology helps robots find household objects

More information: "Odour-tracking capability of a silkmoth driving a mobile robot with turning bias and time delay" Bioinspir. Biomim. 8 016008. iopscience.iop.org/1748-3190/8/1/016008

Related Stories

Organized chaos gets robots going (Update)

Jan 17, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Even simple insects can generate quite different movement patterns with their six legs. The animal uses various gaits depending on whether it crawls uphill or downhill, slowly or fast. Scientists ...

Reeling in a wild silk harvest

May 17, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new way of treating wild silkmoth cocoons could see new silk industries springing up wherever wild silk is found in Africa and South America, as well as silk?s Asian heartland.

Silkmoth inspires novel explosive detector

Jun 01, 2012

Imitating the antennas of the silkmoth, Bombyx mori, to design a system for detecting explosives with unparalleled performance is the feat achieved by a French research team. Made up of a silicon microcantilever ...

Recommended for you

New RFID technology helps robots find household objects

Sep 22, 2014

Mobile robots could be much more useful in homes, if they could locate people, places and objects. Today's robots usually see the world with cameras and lasers, which have difficulty reliably recognizing ...

Victoria team defend title with speedy robot

Sep 22, 2014

A team from Victoria's School of Engineering and Computer Science, led by Robby Lopez, beat 15 other teams from Australian and New Zealand universities to take top honours in the 2013 competition with its ...

User comments : 0