May 9, 2013
Bad Breath? Body Odor? These Robots Will Let You Know
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Japanese researchers have created two new automatons — a female humanoid and a dog robot — that alert those suffering from smelly body odor or bad breath, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported this week.
The robots were developed by the Japanese company CrazyLabo and the Kitakyushu National College of Technology, and utilize commercially available sensors.
Artificial olfaction sensors - or electronic noses - have been commercially available since the early 1990s, when British researchers first brought the products to market.
When a subject breathes into the mouth of Kaori, her responses range from "It smells like citrus" to “Yuck! You have bad breath!” to "There's an emergency taking place that's beyond the limit of my patience."
Meanwhile, Shuntaro nods its head while analyzing the smell of an operator´s feet. If the odor is not too strong it cuddles up to the user and plays Beethoven's Fifth Symphony out of its speakers. But if the feet smell stronger, it makes a growling sound, and if the odor is even worse the robotic dog appears to collapse and pass out.
Both robots use gas sensors capable of creating a chemical fingerprint that can be matched to specific odors, and the data processed by embedded computers that control the robots´ responses.
Kaori and Shuntaro mark the first products to be announced by CrazyLabo, which plans to generate revenue from renting the robots out to events.
The company´s chief executive, Kennosuke Tsutsumi, said he was inspired to build the machines in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which struck the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011.
Tsutsumi, 47, lived far from the disaster-hit region, but had repeatedly visited the area on business and felt he had to do something.
“I was left speechless,” he told the newspaper after viewing the post-quake wreckage as he drove across northeastern Japan two months after the tragedy.
That´s when he became inspired with the idea of making a robot that could make people smile and laugh again.
With his family members repeatedly complaining about his bad breath and smelly feet, Tsutsumi came up with Kaori-chan and Shuntaro-kun after meeting with Takashi Takimoto, a mechanical engineering associate professor at the Kitakyushu National College of Technology.
Takimoto, 32, and his students created computer programs and collected samples of odors to develop the two robots. Ten male students repeatedly measured levels of odors using socks they had worn for two days, and also ate various foods with characteristic smells, such as garlic.
After working a few months on the project, they completed the two androids in February.
CrazyLabo is considering visiting the Tohoku region with them, as well as leasing and showing them to the public.
“I want to continue to produce things that make people laugh and create a good atmosphere,” Tsutsumi said.
According to BBC News, Dr. James Covington of Biomedical Sensors Laboratory at the University of Warwick, the first to develop a commercial electronic nose, said several medical companies are also working to harness the technology.
The Dutch company Enose is developing Aeonose, a smell-based diagnostic kit that helps screen for tuberculosis, asthma and throat cancer, while US-based Alpha Szsenszor is working on equipment to study human breath to detect lung cancers and other diseases. In Britain, the University of Bristol has been working on a project dubbed “Odor Reader,” which analyzes vapor collected from patients' stool samples to diagnose causes of diarrhea.
But despite these advances, current technologies are still less capable than the human olfactory system, which contains some 100 million receptors that make use of 350 million different types of protein. Electronic noses, by comparison, typically use 32 or fewer chemical-based sensors.
But Covington said the technology was still mature enough to incorporate smell-based sensors into smartphones by the end of the decade. He noted the Qualcomm-sponsored Tricorder Xprize, which is already helping to spur development of the doctor-on-a-phone model.
"If you can breathe on the machine it will be able to tell you if you've got bad breath, but it might also help you monitor something like Crohn's disease," he said.
"One of the issues is that for certain applications, if you want to put the gas sensors on a phone, you would have to get approvals from government agencies.”
"But I've already seen plug-in prototypes for a number of applications."
CrazyLabo said it is currently developing a new robot whose nose grows longer when people aren´t telling the truth. The company says the android monitors brain waves to detect a lie.