How 3D-Printed Dog Noses Can Improve Bomb Detectors

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The secret’s in the sniff: Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology developed a device that can detect explosives, narcotics, or human scents 16 times better than trained dogs.

Bomb-sniffing dogs have been the TSA’s preferred professionals for years when it comes to hounding out a potentially dangerous scents. But by modifying existing technology after a dog’s nose, these researchers were able to drastically improve performance.

“The geometry of the nose and nostrils, coupled with the directionality of air when the dog exhales, allows the dog to ‘reach out’ and grab odors from fairly large distances,” lead author Matthew Staymates said in a ResearchGate interview. Using a schlieren optical system, which visualizes the movement of air around objects, they’re able to see how a dog’s nose pulls air in from its environment.

They then attached dog-like 3D printed nostrils to commercially-available vapor detectors, which typically use a continuous “inhale” of air to detect vapors instead of the sniffing action. While their hodgepodge device won’t replace bomb-sniffing security dogs yet, their work opens up future study on stereo-olfaction and how engineers might develop next-gen detection devices.

Watch Staymates, with the help of a very good pupper named Biscuit, demonstrate how it works in the video above.

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