The main objective of the research was to develop a system capable of detecting the presence of human victims buried under difficult-to-access rubble and determining their condition to more effectively direct search and rescue efforts. The solution—an artificial nose made from biosensors with odor-binding proteins—can detect survivors’ unique olfactory signatures. The researchers had to overcome several major challenges to develop the system:
CEA-List integrated and validation-tested the device’s vapor-phase chemical sensor module, which was built on commercially available gas sensors and innovative new sensors that use odor-binding proteins biomolecularly-engineered specifically for the chemicals of interest. These new sensors, designed to detect low concentrations of volatile organic compounds, were implemented with an artificial neural network supervised learning algorithm. The resulting real-time solution can “smell” a human victim beneath rubble and, according to the olfactory signature, determine whether the victim is still alive or, unfortunately, deceased.
The detection module integrates the sensors plus data readout, pre-processing, and wireless transmission circuits. Validation testing was completed in the lab, and then the system was piloted at a search and rescue training facility in Chambéry, France.
The focus of the research will now shift to determining how robust the device is in actual operations. Extensive field testing will be done from September 2021 to February 2022 to confirm the device’s performance and give search and rescue workers a valuable new tool.