Working Like a Dog

A new portable sensor could sniff out trapped humans in search and rescue missions

June 2018

An earthquake strikes, buildings crumble, survivors are buried beneath the rubble. When it comes to search and rescue in the aftermath, every minute counts. Rescue dogs are a valuable resource – but they are far from perfect.

“I was surprised when I spoke to first responders about search and rescue missions – I was not aware how limited the operational capabilities of rescue dogs are,” says Andreas Güntner, research associate and team leader in the Particle Technology Laboratory, ETH Zurich. “Sniffing is tremendously exhausting for them, and so they may only operate for ten minutes to half an hour before they need hours of rest.” This revelation kicked off the development of a device designed to sense human breath- and skin-emitted chemicals to assist in search and rescues.