Atema noted that developing an artificial autonomous device that can track smells – as opposed to visual or auditory cues – has proven extremely difficult. That's because of the way smells form plumes and patches in the atmosphere.
"When you look at an odor plume, there are very holes in the concentration. It's not like a smoke plume out of a stack, you see dense concentration that breaks up in patches that drift away with the current. The problem everyone is having is how do animals connect with the plume in the first place."
Atema said by using the fans to blow the pheromone to the moth, it eliminates this key step in the smell-detecting algorithm.
Ando said that he and his colleagues have been studying neuronal mechanisms of the moth brain and trying to reconstruct it into a supercomputer. From there, the idea is to build a sensor "which is an ultimate bottom-up approach to achieve the artificial brain," Ando said. "We also think that the insect-controlled robot will be a 'reference' when we evaluate accuracy of the artificial brain comparing to the real one."