Airbus plans to deploy a jellyfish-like device built by a neurotech start-up Koniku that uses living biological cells to sniff dangerous chemicals and bombs at the airport.
Multiple odour-detection sensors will be placed in select airport screening tunnels later this year. These sensors are currently in their prototype stage.
The technology, that uses silicon processors bolstered by living cells, will first be used to “smell” hazardous chemicals. It later might be able to sniff out diseases such as the COVID-19 virus, Financial Times reported Monday.
“The technology has a very quick response time of under 10 seconds in best conditions,” said Julien Touzeau, head of product security for the Americas at Airbus.
“We have developed a technology that is able to detect smell — it’s breathing the air, and it’s telling you what’s in the air. We take biological cells, either Hek cells or astrocytes — brain cells — and we genetically modify them to have olfactory receptors,” Osh Agabi, founder of Koniku, explained.
The companies are also exploring the sensor’s detection capabilities to include “biological hazards” so it could detect people with contagious viruses such as the novel coronavirus. This is unlikely to be ready before a vaccine is developed.
That idea is based on how certain diseases emit specific odours. If the molecular structures of those odours were to be mapped, machines could recognise their patterns.