Robot dog equipped for hazardous air sampling

16th June 2024
Paige West

A team of researchers have developed a dog-like quadruped robot with a mechanised arm capable of taking air samples from potentially treacherous environments, such as abandoned buildings or fire sites.

The robot dog delivers these samples to a person who screens them for hazardous compounds, according to a study published in ACS’ Analytical Chemistry. While the system requires further refinement, demonstrations have highlighted its potential value in dangerous conditions.

Testing the air for dangerous chemicals in risky workplaces or post-accident scenarios, such as after a fire, is crucial yet perilous for scientists and technicians. To mitigate human risk, Bin Hu and colleagues have been developing mobile detection systems for hazardous gases and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Their innovations include remote-controlled sampling devices like aerial drones and tiny remotely operated ships. The latest addition to this mechanical menagerie is a dog-like robot with an articulated testing arm mounted on its back. This arm is equipped with three needle trap devices (NTDs) that can collect air samples at any point during the robot’s mission.

The researchers put their four-legged ‘lab’ through a series of challenging environments, including a garbage disposal plant, sewer system, gasoline fireground, and chemical warehouse, to sample air for hazardous VOCs. Although the robot struggled to navigate effectively in rainy and snowy conditions, it successfully collected air samples and delivered them to a portable mass spectrometer (MS) for onsite analysis. This process was quicker than transferring the samples to an off-site laboratory and did not expose a technician to danger. The researchers described the robot-MS system as a ‘smart’ and safer approach for detecting potentially harmful compounds.

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