[ASC-media] Media release: robots that sniff their way

JCA Media jcamedia at starclass.com.au
Mon Aug 23 21:56:18 EST 2004

Sir Mark Oliphant Conferences 2004 Media Releases


Robots capable of both laying and following a scent trail and tracking dangerous substances are under development by researchers at Monash University.

Their research is opening the way for self-navigating robots that could work in industry, in mining, in environmental protection, defence and security applications, says team leader Professor Andy Russell

Prof. Russell will describe the technology at the Sir Mark Oliphant Conference on Insect Sensors and Robotics in Brisbane today.

"Using principles similar to those employed by ants to follow chemical trails, we've built small robots which can both lay and follow a trail of camphor along the ground," he says.

"We managed to do this by placing a quartz crystal microbalance in each of two antennae, coated with a substance which has an affinity for camphor. This detects the trail and signals the microcontroller which controls the robot.

"By having two antennae, like an ant does, the device can navigate quite well by detecting when either or both are on or off the trail."

Prof. Russell says the heart of the machine lies in the clever mathematical algorithms developed to control its behaviour - to detect when it is on- or off-trail, to prevent it walking circles when it loses its way and to use a search pattern to recover the trail.

"You can envision all sorts of uses for such devices.  You could have a smart robot that lays a chemical trail and dumb robots which follow it to fetch and carry - for example in a mine or in a search and rescue operation. 

"Another area of interest is in using robots to detect weapons of mass destruction, such as sarin nerve gas, nuclear or biological devices, or finding leaks in petrochemical, gas and industrial plants."

"We're working on a burrowing robot that is capable of detecting and following a chemical plume through soil - for example from a leaky storage tank.

"Another possible application is robots that detect heat or carbon dioxide given off by people trapped in earthquake or landslide rubble."

The Sir Mark Oliphant Conference on Insect Sensors and Robotics is being held at Emanuel College, the University of Queensland, in Brisbane, from August 23-25, 2004. 

Media are welcome to attend and interview participants.

More information 
Prof. Andy Russell, Intelligent Robotics Research Centre, Monash University,
Ph + 61 (0)7 3871 9100  or 03 9905 4435 
Andy.russell at eng.monash.edu.au
Professor M. Srinivasan, Australian National University, 0410 417 685
M.Srinivasan at anu.edu.au

For more information on the conference:
Prof Julian Cribb, media contact, 0418 639 245

August 24, 2004

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