Smelling nano-drone

During my PhD thesis I developed a nano-drone with chemical sensing capabilities for indoor air quality mapping and gas source localization. The advantages of using a nano-drone for this task are clear: its tiny form-factor and maneuverability enables sensing in environments inaccessible to terrestrial robots and larger drones. Moreover, because a nano-drone does not represent a safety threat for humans, experiments can be carried out easily and safely inside buildings and public areas.

The smelling nano aerial vehicle (SNAV), as we call it, can be used in a myriad of applications that range from environmental monitoring to search and rescue, leak detection, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defense and explosive finding, among others. For example, in the aftermath of an earthquake or explosion it is necessary to search for victims and gas leaks inside pockets that form within the wreckage of collapsed buildings. The SNAV can navigate such scenarios much faster than terrestrial robots, passing through confined spaces that preclude human entry, evading obstacles or large gaps, and collecting gas measurements in three dimensions (x, y, z).

In this paper, we describe the technical details of the prototype, the experiments carried out to evaluate its feasibility for indoor gas source localization and mapping, and the results obtained. We also assessed the impact of the propellers on the chemical sensor signals. The main results is that the SNAV is able to build a 3D gas distribution map of an indoor environment (160 m2 in our experiments) in less than 3 minutes, and localize the emission source with errors of ~ 1 m.