Swiss scientists develop new ‘electronic rescue dog’

Swiss scientists develop new 'electronic rescue dog'
No, this dog is not electronic. File photo: AFP
Researchers at Zurich's ETH university have developed a tiny device for detecting people by smell which could provide essential assistance in the search for people buried by avalanches and earthquakes.

The device, which is the size of a small computer chip, contains extremely sensitive gas sensors for acetone, ammonia, and isoprene – metabolic products that we emit in low concentrations via our breath or skin– as well as sensors for carbon dioxide and moisture.

Photo: ETH/Andreas Güntner

The device can therefore detect a “chemical footprint” indicating the presence of humans, ETH said in a statement.

This means it has potential rescue applications as an alternative to rescue dogs which need to rest and which are not always available in emergency situations.

The ETH researchers, who are seeking industry partners or investors to develop a prototype, now want to test the device in real-life situations.

They say theirs is the smallest and cheapest device of its kind and could be an ideal compliment to current rescue devices which feature microphones and cameras but only work if people are able to communicate that their presence.

The ETH device could also be fitted to drones for use in difficult-to-access locations, the team said.

“The devices are about as sensitive as most ion mobility spectrometers, which cost thousands of Swiss francs and are the size of a suitcase,” said Sotiris Pratsinis, ETH Professor of Process Engineering, who headed up the development team.