Scientists develop robo-dog to sniff out danger in hazardous environments

Credit: Adapted from Analytical Chemistry 2024,

Imagine a robot dog that can sniff out dangerous gases in places too risky for humans.

Researchers have created just that—a four-legged, dog-like robot equipped with a mechanical arm that collects air samples from hazardous environments like abandoned buildings or fire scenes.

This innovative robot then brings the samples to a person for analysis. The team, whose study was published in Analytical Chemistry, believes this system shows great promise, though it still needs some fine-tuning.

Testing the air for harmful chemicals in dangerous situations, such as after a fire or in risky workplaces, is crucial but perilous for scientists and technicians.

To keep people safe, Bin Hu and his colleagues are developing remote-controlled devices to detect hazardous gases and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

These devices include aerial drones and tiny remote-operated ships.

Their latest creation is a dog-like robot with a special testing arm on its back. This arm has three needle trap devices (NTDs) that can collect air samples as the robot moves through various environments.

The team tested their robotic “lab” in several challenging places, including a garbage disposal plant, a sewer system, a gasoline fireground, and a chemical warehouse.

The robot faced some difficulties navigating in rainy and snowy conditions but successfully collected air samples and brought them back for onsite analysis using a portable mass spectrometer (MS).

This process was faster than sending samples to an off-site lab and kept technicians out of harm’s way.

The researchers believe that the robot-MS system is a “smart” and safer way to detect harmful compounds. This innovative robot could become a valuable tool in keeping humans safe while efficiently testing for hazardous gases in dangerous environments.