Robot dog can 'sniff' hazardous gases in inaccessible environments

Friday, 14 June, 2024

Robot dog can 'sniff' hazardous gases in inaccessible environments

To keep humans out of harm’s way, researchers have created a four-legged, dog-like robot that takes air samples from hazardous sites.

Researcher Bin Hu and colleagues are developing mobile detection systems for hazardous gases and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by building remote-controlled sampling devices like aerial drones and tiny remotely operated ships.

The quadruped dog-like robot they have created has an articulated testing arm mounted on its back. It is able to collect air samples from potentially dangerous sites, such as an abandoned building or fire zone. The robot then walks these samples back to a person, who screens them for potentially hazardous compounds.

While the researchers have said that the system needs further refinement, demonstrations show its potential value in dangerous conditions. For instance, testing the air for dangerous chemicals in risky workplaces or after an accident — such as a fire — is an important but very dangerous task for scientists and technicians.

The independently controlled arm is loaded with three needle trap devices (NTDs) that can collect air samples at any point during the robot’s terrestrial mission.

The researchers test-drove their four-legged ‘lab’ through a variety of inaccessible environments, including a garbage disposal plant, sewer system, gasoline fire ground and chemical warehouse, to sample the air for hazardous VOCs.

While the robot had trouble navigating effectively in rainy and snowy weather, it collected air samples and returned them to the portable mass spectrometer (MS) for onsite analysis in less time than it would take to transfer the samples to an off-site laboratory — and without putting a technician in a dangerous environment.

The researchers say the robot-MS system represents a “smart” and safer approach for detecting potentially harmful compounds.

The study was published in the American Chemical Society’s publication Analytical Chemistry.

Image caption: This quadruped robotic air sampler can navigate through fire and other potentially dangerous situations to test for hazardous volatile organic compounds. Credit: Adapted from Analytical Chemistry 2024, DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.4c01555.

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