We have developed another mobile robot that moves in 3D to more closely simulate the movements of odor tracking moths. This robot has been named "Robo-Moth" and can move up-and-down and side-to-side just like our moths. Robo-Moth's upwind movement is simulated by a conveyor belt that can provide moving visual cues similar to those used by our moths (see video below). It can also be used to move the odor source closer to robo-moth's sensors realistically simulating a moth approaching the pheromone source. The robot itself is at the left (above) and is enclosed in a wind tunnel with dimensions similar to those of the tunnel in which we fly our moth experiments. The robot also has a visual system and bilaterally symmetrical plume detecting antennae. We can see the robot tracking the moving dotted floor pattern in the top panel of the video, while the bottom half illustrates what the moth would be seeing as he tracked the plume. In Robo-Moth the odor plume is modeled using ionized air, which is known to behave in a manner similar to odor molecules. Our latest plume tracking algorithms alter their behavior according to the locally sensed concentration of the plume as they move upwind toward the source.
While the biological goal of Robo-Moth is to interactively test our hypotheses for how moths track odor plumes, the ultimate engineering goal is to create an autopilot for an autonomous flying robot that can detect and track odors, so that could be used in situations such as locating buried underground facilities.