15th May, 2013 by Lucy Shaw
A group of Swedish and Spanish engineers have invented an “electronic nose” capable of detecting fruit aromas more effectively than a human.
The “electronic nose”
Using its 32 sensors, the device, which the researchers claim is more sensitive than a human nose, can currently only distinguish between the odors emitted by chopped apples and pears.
“The fruit samples are placed in a chamber into which an air flow is injected that reaches the tower with the sensors, which are metal oxide semiconductors that detect odorous compounds such as methane or butane,” said researcher José Pelegrí Sebastiá.
Software is then used to gather real time data and the information is processed through classification algorithms.
The results can be viewed on a 3D graph that distinguishes between the apple scores and the pear scores.
The study, published in the “Sensors and Actuators A” journal, is the starting point for research the team is involved in to develop multisensory systems that increase the capacity to differentiate complex mixtures of volatile substances.
Sebastiá believes the technology could one day be used in the wine industry to distinguish between grape varieties and recognise a wine’s vintage.
However, the news has been met with skepticism from winemakers.
“The human nose is amazingly sensitive and can detect whether or not something smells good; I’m not sure how you could program a computer to do that,” Daniel Baron, chief winemaker at Silver Oak Cellars in the Napa Valley, told TechNewsDaily.
He did concede however, that the electronic nose might come in useful when winemakers lose their sense of smell through a head cold.
“If I get a cold in January all work stops. Maybe with a mechanical nose I wouldn’t have to worry about it,” he said.