While there might be more than a few steps separating the Roomba from the Iron Giant, scientists are slowly bridging the gap with robots that can remember, walk, and– maybe– love? Well, that last one is still a ways off. But after four decades, Professor Joseph Ayers may have found a way to give robots a sense of smell.
Ayers has focused on using electronic nervous systems that would allow robots to determine their own, independent responses to stimuli. Working with robots that are intended to seek out underwater mines, Ayers says the next step is getting them to cooperate with each other sans preprogramming or outside control. That way several dozen robots can be sent out simultaneously– and he intends to utilize traits of insect colonies to accomplish such a feat.
Specifically, he’s looking at ants which, though kind of creepy, excel at communicating by depositing “smells” and using numerous scent glands to communicate.
Ayers intends to create tiny electronic devices to sense chemicals, and combine them with living cells. One idea is to use a bacteria that will trigger calcium ions upon binding to an odorant, and those calcium ions could in turn trigger a cell to produce light. Voila: smell becomes visible, and can then trigger other actions. With the help of a bioengineering student and an electrohydrodynamic inkjet printer, they can print droplets of a sufficiently small size as to make cells with certain features. These in turn have a resolution that allows them to work with biological systems.
All that’s left to do now is see if they go the way of C3P0 or the Terminator. So, just in case things go south, uh, we sincerely apologize for all the Schwarzenegger jokes.
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