Odorveillance and the Ethics of Robotic Olfaction [Opinion]

Emily Stark, Jeremy Pitt, Alfian Nur Wicaksono, Kristina Milanovic, Victoria Lush, Stephen Hoover

Research output: Contribution to journalLetter, comment/opinion or interviewpeer-review


Of the five traditional exteroceptive senses-sight (vision), hearing (audition), taste (gustation), touch (somatosensation), and smell (olfaction)-olfaction has one of lowest data rates, but is (arguably) the least understood and least welldeveloped in terms of automation. Robotic vision would seem to be much further advanced than robotic olfaction. Additionally, this comparison is just in relation to human olfactory performance. A dog's sense of smell overpowers human capability by a factor of 10 000 to 100 000 (dogs having 50 times more olfactory sensors than humans). For this reason, detection (or sniffer) dogs are extensively used in search and rescue, or to search for illicit substances, while healthcare applications include Diabetes Assist Dogs which are trained to monitor smells in the air for a specific scent on the human breath that is related to rapidly dropping or low blood sugar levels, and to alert the person with diabetes. Critically, the dog is detecting a change in the volatile organic compound (VOC) information. This information is carried by the chemicals that are naturally emitted by all humans through exhalation, cutaneous respiration (skin gas exchange), or perspiration.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8558770
Pages (from-to)16-19
Number of pages4
JournalIEEE Technology and Society Magazine
Issue number4
Early online date30 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2018


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