University researchers have developed a “smelling” sensor that – once mounted on a drone or robotic vehicle – could replace sniffer dogs in the dangerous work of identifying threats with their snouts.

Digital dog noses on drones

University of Rhode Island professor Otto Gregory has spent the last 15 years developing sensors with increasingly refined particle detection capacities. Meaning, for all intents and purposes, they “smell” tiny bits of substances in the air. Backed up by chemical engineering doctoral student Peter Ricci, Gregory has continually reduced the size of those sensors even as he strengthened their detection capabilities. 

The pair now have them to where they can identify an entire range of dangerous, potentially lethal matter down to the part-per-quadrillion level. When it comes to explosives, they say, their “digital dog nose” can sniff right down to the per-trillion level.

The utility of that in security terms, Ricci says, logically…