Moths Are Driving Miniature Cars to Help Scientists Build Odor-Tracking Robots

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It turns out, moths are actually pretty good at driving—at least when scientists hook them up to the right equipment.

It turns out, moths are actually pretty good at driving—at least when scientists hook them up to the right equipment.

In a recent study published in JoVE Video Journal, researchers at the University of Tokyo leveraged a moth’s acute sense of smell to let the insects “steer” a vehicle toward a specific odor. It’s part of their ongoing research into making robots that mimic the insect’s odor-tracking skills.

How does a moth driving a tiny car fit into their plan?

This isn’t actually the core part of their research. The researchers are primarily working to build a model of a moth’s brain, using data to figure out how the insect localizes odors and translates those sensations into movement.

But once they finish that model, they’ll need a way to test it, and that’s where the moth-driven robot comes in.

The experiment proves a moth’s sensory-motor system can effectively steer not only a living creature, but also a mechanical robot. And it also shows how that future brain model would be expected to perform when connected to a robotic car.

Watch the video here for more details about the research, and the significant practical applications of odor-tracking robots.