Scientists develop electronic rescue dog

16 May 2018 | updated 16 May 2018

Zurich – Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich have developed equipment that could be used to detect people by smell after an earthquake. It is the smallest and cheapest equipment of this kind ever made.

Trained rescue dogs are still the best disaster workers because of their sensitive noses, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) writes in a press release. However, dogs are often not immediately available and need to take breaks every now and again. Researchers led by ETH Professor Sotiris Pratsinis have now developed a device that can detect buried people by smell.

The scientists have combined previously developed gas sensors for acetone, ammonia, and isoprene with two commercial sensors for CO2 and moisture. “The combination of sensors for various chemical compounds is important, because the individual substances could come from sources other than humans. CO2, for example, could come from either a buried person or a fire source,” explains Andreas Güntner, a post-doctoral researcher.

The sensors applied by the ETH scientists are the size of a small computer chip. The device they have created is “is by far the smallest and cheapest device that is sufficiently sensitive to detect entrapped people,” comments Professor Pratsinis. Laboratory tests have shown that this sensor combination can be quite useful when searching for entrapped people. The next step is to test it in real conditions. The researchers are currently seeking industry partners or investors to support the construction of a prototype.

In future, they hope this device could not only be operated by people, but also by drones and robots. This would allow difficult-to-reach or inaccessible areas to also be searched. Further potential applications could include detecting stowaways and exposing human trafficking.