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Sensifi’s AI Artificial Nose Can Smell the Bacteria in Food

Sensifi’s artificial nose offers on-premises testing for harmful pathogens in food.

  • The e-nose can give back results in less than an hour.
  • It uses electrodes that can detect volatile organic compounds which are unique to each type.
  • The AI smell detector looks for different bacteria VOCs to identify the culprit.

Israeli startup Sensifi built an “artificial nose,’ enabling on-premises detection of harmful pathogens such as E. Coli and Salmonella.

Traditional lab testing which takes two to three days to generate a result wouldn’t cut it for our life in the fast lane. Prof. Raz Jelinek and Ph.D. student Nitsan Shauloff from Ben Gurion University built an artificial nose that could give results in less than one hour.

You know how when you exhale, you expel CO2? Well, bacteria and other microbes kind of do the same thing, except what they expel are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Each genus of bacteria has its own VOC, just like how each human has their own fingerprints.

The electric nose (e-nose) has electrodes coated with carbon ‘dots,’ tiny nanoparticles of carbon that detect the VOCs. The AI smell detector then uses machine learning to analyze the bacteria’s “fingerprint.”

“An odor isn’t just a gas, it is a unique combination of gases,” explains Adrian Kostrz, the firm’s innovation manager. “And very often there are variations or very small differences in the way things smell.” We don’t usually pick up the small differences in smell as produce starts spoiling. Don’t tell my mother, but I can never tell properly if yogurt (laban) has gone bad.

Sensifi primarily targets the food safety testing market. In this day and age, we definitely need more accessible food testing as some restaurants have very questionable practices. It’s about time testing was revamped.

Sensifi’s chief executive, Modi Peled, said, “Testing methods in the food industry have remained the same for 40 to 50 years. Until now AI hadn’t really entered the testing segment of this market.”

But Sensifi is also looking to expand into a different market. In fact, they are exploring collaborations with breweries to ensure consistent yeast quality during fermentation, as well as potential partnerships with meat and dairy manufacturers for testing purposes.

But here’s my million-dollar question: Can an AI invention like this be programmed to sniff out poison? Actual poison. “You’ll do time in jail if you serve it to someone” poison. For example, cyanide is described as having a “bitter almond” smell (I never smelled it myself) but not everyone can detect it.

And let’s say someone out there was to make such an AI. Would our world leaders finally drink their champagne with ease of mind?

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