Chemical sniffer based on Labrador nose boosts detection by up to factor of 18
A chemical sniffer modelled on the nose of a Labrador has been shown to improve detection up to 18 times.
The secret was to mimic the "active" way dogs sniff as they exhale and inhale to sample the air, said scientists.
Conventional sniffer devices, such as those used to spot hidden explosives, employ continual suction and do not breathe in and out.
Taking lessons from nature, the US researchers investigated the doggy technique for smelling and learned how canine nostrils capture and pull in aroma samples five times a second.
Then using a 3-D printer they replicated the external features of a female Labrador retriever's nose, including the shape, direction, and spacing of the nostrils.
Fitting the artificial dog nose to the front of a commercially available explosives detector improved performance up to 18 times.
Lead scientist Matthew Staymates, from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (Nist), said: "The dog is an active aerodynamic sampling system that literally reaches out and grabs odorants.
"It uses fluid dynamics and entrainment to increase its aerodynamic reach to sample vapours at increasingly large distances. Applying this bio-inspired design principle could lead to significantly improved vapour samplers for detecting explosives, narcotics, pathogens - even cancer."
An imaging technique widely used in aeronautical engineering to view the flow of air around objects confirmed that the imitation nose could sniff much like a real dog.
In tests, the sniffing nose was four times better than a conventional detector 10cm (3.9 ins)from a vapour source and 18 times better at a distance of 20cm (7.9in).
Mr Staymates added: "Their incredible air-sampling efficiency is one reason why the dog is such an amazing chemical sampler. It's just a piece of the puzzle. There's lots more to be learned and to emulate as we work to improve the sensitivity, accuracy and speed of trace-detection technology."