How do you research the development of robots that can smell faint odors like pheromones or trace chemicals? Strap a moth to a tiny mobile robot, of course.
Researchers in Japan created a robot controlled by a styrofoam track ball, atop which perched a male silkmoth. They they placed female moth pheromones at different locations and watched the moth learn to operate the machine with its legs while responding to the information picked up by its antennae. By removing the typical mode of transportation the moth would use to locate the female (flight), the researchers hoped to further isolate how the moth uses smell to locate the source.
That, and it’s pretty hilarious to watch a moth-controlled robot.
Also, we seem to have an olfactory-location theme today. Did anyone else notice that?