Giving Robots and Other Intelligent Machines the Ability to Smell

Rovereto, Italy, 29th July 2020 – An Italian-American research conducted by researchers at the IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology) in Rovereto (Italy) and Harvard University in Boston (Usa) explains for the first time the mechanisms used by our brain to recognize specific smells. The study, published in Nature, sheds new light on the brain processes involved in the continuous flow of information arriving from our senses, in particular from the sense of smell. Thanks to this result, researchers will be able to think about the realization of an artificial sense of smell, to be transferred to robots and other intelligent machines in the future.

If we talk about sight or hearing, scientists know quite well the mechanisms that lead us to distinguish two colors or two notes. This knowledge was translated into relatively well-established theories: we know which wavelength a neon must emit to appear red and which frequency an electronic keyboard must produce to make us hear a G. The same does not happen with odors: we are not able to say how a molecule smells just by looking at its chemical structure.

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