The Quest to Make a Bot That Can Smell as Well as a Dog

Unfortunately, the other reason we don’t have robots that can smell is that olfaction remains a stubborn biological enigma. Scientists are still piecing together the basics of how we sense all those volatile compounds and how our brains classify that information. “There are more unknowns than knowns,” says Hiroaki Matsunami, a researcher at Duke University. Mershin, however, believes that we don’t really have to understand how mammals smell to build an artificial nose. He’s betting that things will work the other way around: To understand the nose, we have to build one first. In his efforts with a brilliant mentor named Shuguang Zhang, Mershin has built a device that can just begin to give dogs—his panting adversaries—a run for their …