I’m really rather excited because I was just made aware of yet another milestone in the field of machine perception — the ability to smell. Actually, that’s not exactly what I meant to say — I’ve been smelling for years in my own quiet way — what I should have said was that machines now have the ability to detect, recognize, and respond to smells.

Today’s machines, such as robots, boast all sorts of capabilities that — until recently — would have been possible only in the realm of science fiction. They can see (with cameras), hear (with microphones), and they can even touch/feel (with tiny force sensors). Until now, however, their sense of smell has been rudimentary to say the least, primarily limited to the ability to detect and identify individual gasses of a noxious nature.

Hmm. While I think about it, what would be the equivalents to the term “machine vision” when it comes to sounds and smells? We could use “machine olfaction” for smells, but what would be the counterpart for auditory perception?

The reason for my meandering musings is that my chum Rick Curl just alerted me to the fact that, a few hours ago as I pen these words, the Smell Inspector Kickstarter launched. This little rascal is an electronic nose — should we say eNose, e-nose, or e-Nose? — presented in the form of a developer’s kit and an end-user gadget.


The Smell Inspector in action (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: SmartNanotubes Technologies)

Brought to us by those clever guys and gals at SmartNanotubes Technologies, the Smell Inspector features an olfactory sensor array based on nifty nanomaterials that’s both cheaper and 100 times more sensitive than traditional gas sensors.

Furthermore, this sensor isn’t limited to individual gasses; rather, in conjunction with artificial intelligence (AI), it can be used for the digitization and recognition of smells formed from complex concoctions of aromatic molecules.

Compatible with the Arduino and Raspberry Pi, the Smell Inspector is extremely sensitive and uses very little power. Also, its small size means it can be integrated into many devices, including robot arms, autonomous automations, and even drones.

Even though this Kickstarter launched only a couple of hours ago, it’s already exceeded its original goal. In fact, the pledges continue to mount as I watch the screen. I can envisage so many uses for this, not the least being to detect, identify, and alert us to products that have passed their “best by” states in our home refrigerators. I will be interested to see how SmartNanotubes Technologies fares, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them being snapped up by a larger company in the not-so-distant future.