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Caltech Creates Electronic Nose 154

eldavojohn writes "Researchers have created an electronic nose that can detect odor and identify which odors are a concern to it. From the article, 'The Lewis Group a division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Caltech have a working model of an electronic nose. The efforts of Caltech scientists has led to an array of simple, readily fabricated chemically sensitive conducted polymer film. An array of broadly-cross reactive sensors respond to a variety of odors. However, the pattern of differential responses across the array produces a unique pattern for each odorant. The electronic nose can identify, classify and quantify when necessary the vapor or odor that poses a concern or threat.'"
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Caltech Creates Electronic Nose

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  • by TheTopher ( 879626 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @04:49AM (#21082475) Journal
    As a student at Caltech in Prof. Nate Lewis' Chemistry class, I feel obligated to ask why the correct spelling of "Caltech" from the article was converted into the incorrect spellings of "CalTech" and "Cal Tech"? I realize that we don't conform to the usual abbreviation for Tech schools but it's a "little t" for "Caltech"
    • by sco08y ( 615665 )
      Wait... a student of *the* Prof. Nate Lewis of *that* Caltech?

      I feel obliged, I mean obligated, to ask, can I have your autograph?
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        veryone who went to Caltech was a student of Nate Lewis. He teaches the required freshman introductory chem class.
    • by DerCed ( 155038 )
      Because everyone understands it anyway? It's really not that much of a big deal, mate.
    • by drerwk ( 695572 )
      As an alumnus I like to point out why the Cal Tech usage is in addition to being wrong, also confusing. Cal, when used to refer to institutions of higher learning in California, always(?) refers to either the University of California e.g. Cal Berkeley, Cal(R) Bears, [] or to one of the California State University campuses [] with particular attention to Cal Poly. I sure wish I had a Cal Poly sweatshirt given the number of times people have confused Caltech and Ca
    • The article has it twice correctly as Caltech and once as Cal Tech (up near the top).

      Bugs me too, dude, but I think this is a battle we are going to lose, long term. Even the City of Pasadena has roadsigns pointing to campus that spell it as two words.
  • Artificial Nose (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sqrt(2) ( 786011 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @04:49AM (#21082481) Journal
    I've always thought it interesting that creating an artificial nose (sense of smell) has lagged so far behind the other senses. Vision, that's easy, cameras have sharper resolution than our pathetic biological eyes. Hearing, again, sensitivity of microphones has easily surpassed human ability. There's the sense of touch, but we can cheat and make sensors that detect resistance to motion, being able to feel and discern texture is harder however. Sense of smell is probably the most abstracted and subjective, so it's no wonder it's the most difficult to replicate with technology. Most of the artificial "nose" tech is just checking for the presence of certain chemicals in the air.
    • Re:Artificial Nose (Score:5, Interesting)

      by allcar ( 1111567 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @05:00AM (#21082531)
      Similarly, use of odour in entertainment is way behind the more "mainstream" senses. There are a few museums that have used smell as part of there displays - The Imperial War Museum in London is a good example. The 1st World War trench exhibition uses artificial smells to bring you that delightful blend of excrement and cordite.
      However, in general films and games have steered clear of the sense of smell. In gaming, visuals and sound are a given. Vibrating controllers try to deal with the sense of touch. Smell (and taste) have been ignored. As usual, it will probably be porn that leads the way - just think of the possibilities!
    • Re:Artificial Nose (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Mathinker ( 909784 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @05:06AM (#21082555) Journal
      It's also probably the sense which has the greatest genetically based phenotypical variation. To put it simply, there's probably more average difference between "normal" individuals' olfactory experiences than those of sight, hearing, taste, and touch.

      That might just be because we rely so little on smell, what is accepted as normal has expanded with respect to this sense (as opposed to color-blindness, for example).
    • If tech were superior to our pathetic biological vision (including the realtime signal processing around it, of course) I'd be able to point a photo or video camera to a scene and click and have the same result of what mt eyes see. This is not really the case.

      On audio we're kind of there though.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by cashdot ( 954651 )
      It is off-topic, but I could not resist: I don't think that cameras and microphones have surpassed the human capabilities. Show me a microphone that has the same dynamic range as the human ear. Or a vision system that has the same 'postprocessing' capabilities as our visual cortex. Resolution and sensitivity are not the only performance indicators!
      • Expensive doesnt mean that it doesnt exist.
      • Mwo? (Huh?)

        (I'm gonna leap a bit off topic, too.)

        It COULD just be that microphones and cameras lack an associative library/databank comparable to the human brain and powers of coherent and random recall. Data is just data, but experiences make data MEAN something. Once computers learn to synthesize information ON THEIR OWN, we better watch out. They're ALMOST there. Hook up sound, sight, smell and intelligence with mobility, and something wonderful (bionics for the physically challenged) can happen or somet
    • Most of the artificial "nose" tech is just checking for the presence of certain chemicals in the air

      You are a genius. In case you didn't know your biological nose does the same. It is almost the definition of "nose".
      • What the poster was trying to get at is that current electronic noses are designed to detect only a narrow range of chemicals, and are unable to detect anything else. For example, an electronic nose which is able to detect the smell of carrots could be brought into a kitchen where someone is frying up some bacon, baking some bread, and wiping up a spill with lemon scented cleanser, and it would not detect a thing. Of course, that's the way they are made. The most common example would be roadside breathal
        • by mcmonkey ( 96054 )

          The most common example would be roadside breathalysers, which detect alcohol.

          Not really. A breathalyser is not an artifical nose for smelling alcohol.

          The only question I have is this: If a person who can't see is blind, and a person who can't hear is deaf, what is a person who can't smell called?

          A person who cannot smell is anosmic, or is an anosmiac.

    • I think in large part it's due more to the fact that we really don't have much of a sense of smell when compared to other mammals. It's a bit like a blind cave fish trying to create good tests for vision when that concept is almost totally alien to it.
      • by El Lobo ( 994537 )
        OTOH there are many studies that prove that our first memories as a child are almost always associated to a certain arome/smell/odor/fragrance/stink, whatever....
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Vision, that's easy, cameras have sharper resolution than our pathetic biological eyes.

      I wondered about this, so I decided to look it up. At [] the writer seems to sum up the topic pretty nicely. It seems that, while our eyes have probably been surpassed by technology when looking at resolution only (think [] ), the image processing power of the brain exceeds any of our current technology. I guess our eyes aren't quite obsolete yet. ;)

    • by mcmonkey ( 96054 )

      Most of the artificial "nose" tech is just checking for the presence of certain chemicals in the air.

      What do you think natural "nose" tech does?

    • by cecille ( 583022 )
      A few places have tried this type of thing already. One the professors at my university developed an e-nose a while ago mostly to look at emissions from agricultural processes.

      paper abstract []
  • Old news? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @04:53AM (#21082503) Homepage
    Am I the only person (in the UK) who saw the Tomorrow's World back in the days of Phillipa Forester or earlier where they had something IDENTICAL to this and were "on the verge" of commercialising it.

    I seem to remember something about they discovered the material being tested for aircraft use until they realised that the strong odours of a busy airport made the properties of the material change, then they put it into an electronic nose. I also remember a demo where the machine detected the difference between "normal" and "rancid" mayonnaise by smell alone.

    It seems that this is one of those inventions that just keeps popping up but nobody ever really finds a commercial use for it that can make all the development costs worthwhile.
    • Am I the only person (in the UK) who saw the Tomorrow's World back in the days of Phillipa Forester...

      When Phillipa was on screen, who cared about the technology?

    • by stevey ( 64018 )

      True, although Tomorrows World was notorious for two things:

      • Live demonstrations which didn't work.
      • Demonstrations of technology which would be with us "real soon now".
      • You forgot number 3, showing the clip where they demonstrated the CD just to prove that they actually got something right once.
        • I've always wanted to sue Tomorrows World for the unrealised-future depression from which I now suffer ... I still have to eat breakfast instead of those neat little pills they demonstrated, still have to pay freakin' nPower for my heating when I was promised geothermal energy, and I still can't roll to work in a large plastic ball or in a mini-plane or a personal hovercraft. So far I have been unable to move on with my life, or develop meaningful relationships because of this. ;)
    • I actually worked in the lab where they developed the machine. UMIST in Manchester.

      They did commercialise it. The technology is used all over the place. [] []

      Of course, I'm sure Caltech can patent it can sue the bastards into oblivion.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      I've read about different electronic noses before, yes. My impression of this article is that this is an improved version, with a wider range of detection, and cheaper to make.
    • As seen on CSI: []

      Caltech - Reinventing the wheel ever since.

    • Re:Old news? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Mr. Underbridge ( 666784 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @08:34AM (#21083459)

      Am I the only person (in the UK) who saw the Tomorrow's World back in the days of Phillipa Forester or earlier where they had something IDENTICAL to this and were "on the verge" of commercialising it.

      This is in fact old news. The first publication from this research group regarding chemical sensing was in 1995. I don't think any major breakthroughs have been made recently.

      See []

      That's not to say it isn't interesting - I have experience in the chemical sensing field so I think it's cool - but it's definitely not news.

    • It's not only in the UK, electronic noses have been around for a long time. I remember seeing one at an alumni event at the Illinois Institue of Technology many years ago: []

      And that was a miniaturized, improved one of one that they had built in the 1970s that was about 3 meters long. From what I remember from that tour, what's happened over the years is increasing miniaturization, better sensor arrays and better algorithms for identifying substances. B

    • by mindriot ( 96208 )

      As some of the other posts indicate, there have been a few approaches to building electronic noses. Another one worth mentioning is the "Karlsruhe Micro-Nose" [] (PDF, English on pages 3–4) which uses an array measuring conductivity over a temperature gradient, resulting in sensoric fingerprints for different smells (see the examples on page 4).

    • Leeds University developed the bloodhound sensor - an electronic nose - in 1995, now owned by Scensive Technologies. []
    • I don't know about Tomorrow's World, but I know that Nate Lewis has been doing this for at least ten years, because I remember seeing presentations about it my first year of grad school, way back when (1997). At one point he and other Caltech people even spun off a company, Cyrano Systems, to market the thing. And *that* was at least six years ago.

      Reading TFA, I didn't see any info in the article that was different from what I saw presented a decade ago. I'm sure they've improved the e-nose a ton in th
  • Hold it in (Score:3, Funny)

    by doyoulikeworms ( 1094003 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @05:02AM (#21082543)
    Because futuristic elevators are going to be really awkward.
  • We got an electronic nose. All I want now is a robotic cow that grows all it's meat back after you slaughter it.
  • But... (Score:1, Redundant)

    by daniorerio ( 1070048 )
    does it run linux?
  • All together now:

  • ...and Slashdot creates electronic noise...
  • Medical applications (Score:5, Interesting)

    by apodyopsis ( 1048476 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @06:02AM (#21082721)
    It is well known that dogs keen sense of smell can detect illness and cancers. Lets hope this thing can be turned into something sensitive enough and cheap enough for widespread medical use. This could save lives.

    for the interested: []
  • Great! Now there's gonna be another way to 'pick' your nose... Or is that to 'pick (out)' your Robot's nose?

    "You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose." -Unknown
  • by Gar0s ( 323445 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @06:29AM (#21082815)
    FRY: This is a great, as long as you don't make me smell Uranus. Heh heh.
    LEELA: I don't get it.
    PROFESSOR FARNSWORTH: I'm sorry, Fry, but astronomers renamed Uranus in 2620 to end that stupid joke once and for all.
    FRY: Oh. What's it called now?
    • [Prof. Farnsworth is searching for Bender with his Smelloscope]
      Leela: Anything yet, professor?
      Professor Hubert Farnsworth: I'm afraid the Smelloscope can't locate Bender. His fragrance is too mild. It's being overwhelmed by local sources.
      [Everyone looks at Zoidberg]
      Dr. Zoidberg: Hooray! Now I'm the center of attention.
  • by master_p ( 608214 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @06:45AM (#21082877)
    If all the electronic vision/sound/touch/smell data could be put in a computer which had a simple program of recalling reactions according to those data, we could have the foundations for an electronic brain.

    And if the reactions are driven to motors which could move body parts, then we are one step closer to making an android.
  • by Esion Modnar ( 632431 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @06:46AM (#21082879)
    is what I at first thought they had created. I was not impressed. Then I realized it was an electronic *nose*... Still not impressed.
  • Michael Jackson could use a new one.
  • I'm serious, dogs can smell some types of cancer ( (including lung cancer) there have been instances of dogs scratching at people's legs, and when they go to doctors there are malignant melanomas. It'd be interesting to see if this can be replicated and used as a medical device.
    • It'd be interesting to see if this can be replicated and used as a medical device.

      It's been done. In most cases the dogs are still far more sensitive, but in some cases the device is still sensitive enough. One exception is detection of biogenic amines, which are markers for kidney failure among other things. For those, specific types of sensors are actually more sensitive than the dogs by a fair margin.

  • The good news is, scientists have developed a robotic nose. The bad news is, it's a dog's nose, so it robotically sniffs your butt.
  • We can only imagine what they'll build for the CalTech nose to sniff...

  • Great. My dog finally stopped sniffing the crotch of everyone who visits my house. Now my Roomba is going to start.
  • Didn't I already see this on CSI? nick wanted this new gadget but Grissom said they could not afford it. he ends up using it in a case and in the end Grissom orders it. /shrug
  • Something similar (Score:3, Informative)

    by curious.corn ( 167387 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @08:54AM (#21083625)
    Something similar, the Libra nose [] has been developed in Italy, at the University of Rome "Tor Vergata". The article is slim on the transducer CalTech is using...
  • I was working on an almost identical system in the UK literally 10 years ago... and I know we have patents on it... I wonder if they took care of the saturation issues... Still nice to see someone else picking up on the work though...
  • ...identify, classify and quantify...

    if ((sensor1 > 25)&&(sensor2 > 75))
    substance1detected = TRUE;


    if (substance1detected)


    call DumpSubtanceList(substancearray);

    What's with all the overly-hopeful anthropomorphization lately on Slashdot? I thought this place was more geared toward IT professionals than those likely to be impressed with hype targeting the general public.
  • Can it smell fear?
  • Will the electronic tongue that can taste be programmed with Lisp?
  • I thought they said "electronic noise" and I was like "I've been doing that for almost 10 years now." I guess I don't have any insight, as I'm not an olfactory maven...
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @10:30AM (#21084805) Homepage Journal
    Where's the cocaine transistor?
  • To start brazenly: this was the subject of my PhD (e-mail me if you want references) I presented in 96, and this kind of things was already old news at the time, but it's like other subject in science. The press keeps re-"discovering" it now and then.

    Now I do not mean to underestimate what was achieved, but the problems we had when I was studying the matter was principally one of sensor drift over time. You can slap a bunch of gas sensors together, study their various reactions to various "odor" stimulus,

  • University of Texas came out with an electronic tongue 8 years ago: []

    I think they've developed a nose since then, but can't find a good link.
  • A nose by any other name would still smell...
  • this isn't my nose it's a false one!
  • I will make some eletronic cocaine and get filthy rich!
  • If it got too good you'd never be able to pretend it wasn't you.

    Dave: "For cry'n out loud Steve, what the hell did you eat!?"
    Nose 9000: "Sorry Dave, it wasn't Steve, I have traced the odor trail back to your buttocks."
    Dave: "What? How!?"
    Nose 9000: "Even though you tried to fan it and walk away from it I was able to pinpoint the sound too."
  • Does this mean us techy type are going to have to bathe more often? :)
  • Not the typical patent question, but rather relating to consequences of invention: will this device make scents patentable? Currently you cannot patent a particular scent (e.g. perfume, cologne, bouquet of wine), but what if the uniqueness of a scent was quantifiable through the use of just such a device?
  • by benow ( 671946 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @01:55PM (#21088187) Homepage Journal
    Sorry, couldn't resist.
  • Finally, we can now answer that age-old question which has plagued mankind since the dawn of time: "Who farted?"
  • Law enforcement setting up camera devices that trigger at the scent of pot smoke.
    High School bathrooms that do the same with tobacco.

    I want to put a budget one outside my window to turn on a light when it detects my friendly neighborhood skunk (skunks don't like the light)-- as he rather likes the grubs that hang out in the patch of moss under my window. Right now when I'm woken up at 3AM by the pungent smell, I have to turn on the light manually...
  • How did they know what to make it out of?


"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell