A Tiny Drone Uses Special Moth Antenna to Detect Target Chemicals

Sometimes, it’s impossible to top Mother Nature. This is the conclusion reached by the University of Washington engineers who opted to repurpose moth biology rather than invent new human technology. They call it the “Smellicopter,” but it is a drone.

Drone with Moth AntennaMore About the Drone

The device is mounted on a tiny drone platform with collision avoidance, and it’s a prototype of what could be a very promising fusion of natural and artificial ingenuity. UW grad student Melanie Anderson, who is the lead author of the paper describing the Smellicopter shares that Nature really blows our human-made odor sensors out of the water. In many industrial applications, sensitivity is quite important.

It is surely not a walk in the park to train moths to fly toward toxic plumes of gas and report back their findings. This is why the crew of engineers carefully removed a common hawk moth’s antenna and installed it on board. When a light current passes through it, the special platform can monitor the general status of the antenna. This changes when it is exposed to specific chemicals, such as those a moth wants to follow – a flower’s scent perhaps.

A moth The Smellicopter

In the experiment, the cybernetic moth-machine construct performed better than a traditional sensor of the same power and size. The antenna cells, excited by the particles wafting over them, created a reliable, fast, and accurate signal for those chemicals they are built to detect. It would be non-trivial to “reprogram” those sensitivities, but it’s not impossible.

The tiny drone itself has a clever bit of engineering to keep the antenna pointed upwind. While the gyros and pressure sensors might have worked to keep the craft pointing in the right direction, the engineers used a simple approach of a pair of light but large fins mounted on the back that has the effect of automatically turning the small drone upwind, like a weather vane. If there is something that smells good, it detects it, and off it goes.

It’s a prototype, but this type of sensitivity and simplicity are inevitably attractive enough to potential customers like the military and heavy industry.

Galileo Project Scientists Looking for the Existence of Extra-terrestrial Technology

Under the lead of Harvard University, a team of scientists is now preparing for a new journey and research project called the Galileo Project. This project aims to look for the presence of extraterrestrial life with the help of their technology that may have been left behind. So, what is this project all about, and why is it so important?

A Bit About the Galileo Project

Avi Loeb, an astronomy professor at Harvard University and co-founder of the project alongside Bruker Corporation’s CEO Frank Laukkien, joined hands and came up with the Galileo Project. In their recent interview, the pair stated that humans could no longer ignore the possibility that ETC or Extraterrestrial Technological Civilizations may exist. This project is dedicated to understand such existence and learn more about them.

The Search is for Objects and Not Sending Out Signals.

When asked about what precisely the scientists plan to look for, the team states that they would be looking for technosignatures or extraterrestrial technological equipment instead of looking out for electromagnetic signals. They further said they plan to assemble their own data and make all the necessary scientific and transparent analyses. They further stated that they did not want to use the government-owned sensors because that is classified data.

Selecting the Necessary Equipment for the Project

To conduct this project, the team plans to set up customized telescopes with built-in cameras. These telescopes will help in the detection of the objects and be connected to a specialized computer system that will do the necessary filtrations.

A Final Note

Humankind has been searching for signs of extraterrestrial life for centuries now. Somehow, we have always been interested in knowing if there are other life forms in the solar system. We hope that we may finally get the answers that we have been looking out for through this project.