By mimicking how dogs get their whiffs, government and university researchers have demonstrated that “active sniffing” can improve by more than 10 times the performance of current technologies that rely on continuous suction to detect trace amounts of explosives and other contraband.
“The dog is an active aerodynamic sampling system that literally reaches out and grabs odorants,” explained Matthew Staymates, a mechanical engineer and fluid dynamicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). “It uses fluid dynamics and entrainment to increase its aerodynamic reach to sample vapors at increasingly large distances. Applying this bio-inspired design principle could lead to significantly improved vapor samplers for detecting explosives, narcotics, pathogens—even cancer.”
Following nature’s lead, Staymates and colleagues from NIST, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fitted a dog-nose-inspired adapter to the front end of a commercially available explosives detector. Adding the artificial dog nose—made on a 3-D printer—to enable active sniffing improved odorant detection by up to 18 times, depending on the distance from the source.