'Smellicopter' Obstacle-Avoiding Drone Uses Live Moth Antenna

A team led by the University of Washington  introduces their "Smellicopter" autonomous drone, which uses a live antenna from a moth to navigate toward a smell. Smellicopter can also sense and avoid obstacles as it travels, and is programmed to move upwind, tracking odors to their source. The drone has two plastic fins on the back to create drag to help it be oriented so that it is constantly facing upwind. In the future, a Smellicopter could be used to detect hidden explosives, gas leaks, or for environmental monitoring and to look at agricultural crops. The team used antennae from the Manduca sexta hawkmoth, and in adding tiny wires into either end of the antenna, were able to connect it to an electrical circuit and record its responses. “By using an actual moth antenna with Smellicopter, we’re able to get the best of both worlds: the sensitivity of a biological organism on a robotic platform where we can control its motion," says lead author Melanie Anderson, a doctoral student of mechanical engineering.