The nose is an array of sensors to detect various substances which, when found together, would provide the crucial "chemical fingerprint" showing the presence of human life.
The array builds on the team's previous work on building sensors to detect acetone, ammonia and isoprene which are all by-products of human metabolism and which leave our bodies either as we breath, or through our skin. Separate research has shown that these chemicals can accumulate quickly where a human is trapped.
The new "nose" combines these sensors with commercially-available ones which detect carbon dioxide and moisture, which could also indicate the presence of a person. It could be fitted to a handheld device, or to a robot or drone for reaching inaccessible locations. The team's own sensors are made from metal-oxide films with a high surface area, which makes them sensitive to trace concentrations of the target chemicals.