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Brief Published: 11 Feb 2013

Moth Drives Mobile Robot


Scientists at the University of Tokyo have built a two-wheeled robot driven by a silk moth as part of a research project into scent-tracking robots.

The researchers attached an adult male silk moth – chosen for its characteristic mating dance – to the robot before releasing the scent of an adult female into a specially-designed wind tunnel.  A polystyrene ball responded to the moth’s leg movements as the insect made its way towards the sex pheromone of a potential mate – controlling the direction of the robot. All 14 moths used in the experiment were able to guide the machine towards the source of the scent. 

The research was conducted to reveal more about how moths use olfactory perception as a tracking device. This information could improve the performance of autonomous robots designed to track down environmental spills or leaks.

“Most chemical sensors, such as semiconductor sensors, have a slow recovery time and are not able to detect the temporal dynamics of odours as insects do,” said the study’s lead author Dr Noriyasu Ando. “Our results will be an important indication for the selection of sensors and models when we apply the insect sensory-motor system to artificial systems.”

From motorised moths to robotic bees, scientists working in the fast-developing world of robotic research are increasingly taking inspiration from natural systems. To discover more robotic advancements, check out the report Artificial Intelligence: Man and Machine.

University of Tokyo's Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology