Army developing bioagent sniffing robots

The United States Army Research Laboratory is working on research with the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania into robotic systems that can sniff out chemical agents like chemical and biological weapons and explosives.

The system is part of a mobile robot that has a portable micro-gas chromatograph on a tiny chip no bigger than a dime. The robot performs autonomous searches and works like an electronic nose to detect chemical agents and threats.

The researchers believe that these robots could eventually be adapted to locate not only explosives, chemical weapons and biological weapons, but also to find people and map out buildings and other structures. This technology may also be adaptable for soldier uniforms, vehicles and transportation systems like airlines, buses and subways.

“Gas sensing systems with this degree of sensitivity and specificity have typically been large, stationary monitoring devices,” William D. Nothwang, a material science and ARL lead for the Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology-Microelectrics Center, said. “The chemical bouquet that the solider is exposed to is exceptionally crowded, and many of these chemical scents are potentially dangerous, toxic or hazardous. Having the ability to detect these chemicals at very minute concentration amid a crowded background enables a new level of sensory awareness.”

The main work of the ARL is focused on the Orion, which is a next-generation system that can place the gas chromatograph Mercury onto smaller and more Army-relevant pieces of equipment.