Roboticists often take inspiration from animals for designing sensors, actuators, or algorithms that control the behavior of robots. Bio-inspiration is motivated with the uncanny ability of animals to solve complex tasks like recognizing and manipulating objects, walking on uneven terrains, or navigating to the source of an odor plume. In particular the task of tracking an odor plume up to its source has nearly exclusively been addressed using biologically inspired algorithms and robots have been developed, for example, to mimic the behavior of moths, dung beetles, or lobsters. In this paper we argue that biomimetic approaches to gas source localization are of limited use, primarily because animals differ fundamentally in their sensing and actuation capabilities from state-of-the-art gas-sensitive mobile robots. To support our claim, we compare actuation and chemical sensing available to mobile robots to the corresponding capabilities of moths. We further characterize airflow and chemosensor measurements obtained with three different robot platforms (two wheeled robots and one flying micro-drone) in four prototypical environments and show that the assumption of a constant and unidirectional airflow, which is the basis of many gas source localization approaches, is usually far from being valid. This analysis should help to identify how underlying principles, which govern the gas source tracking behavior of animals, can be usefully “translated” into gas source localization approaches that fully take into account the capabilities of mobile robots. We also describe the requirements for a reference application, monitoring of gas emissions at landfill sites with mobile robots, and discuss an engineered gas source localization approach based on statistics as an alternative to biologically inspired algorithms.
Keywords: mobile robotics, mobile robot olfaction, landfill surveillance, biologically inspired robots
Citation: Hernandez Bennetts V, Lilienthal AJ, Neumann PP and Trincavelli M (2012) Mobile robots for localizing gas emission sources on landfill sites: is bio-inspiration the way to go? Front. Neuroeng. 4:20. doi: 10.3389/fneng.2011.00020
Received: 05 October 2011;
Paper pending published: 07 November 2011;
Accepted: 17 December 2011; Published online: 12 January 2012.
Edited by:Ramon Huerta, University of California San Diego, USA
Reviewed by:Sandro Carrara, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland
Copyright: © 2012 Hernandez Bennetts, Lilienthal, Neumann and Trincavelli. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited.
*Correspondence: Marco Trincavelli, Center for Applied Autonomous Sensor Systems, School of Science and Technology, Örebro University, Örebro SE-70182, Sweden. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org