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Designing Sensors to Mimic Human Sensory Analysis of Olive Oil

May. 11, 2015
By Ylenia Granitto

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Researchers have designed a sensor, named “Oliver,” that tries to mimic a human fea­ture: it “tastes” oil and is able to pro­vide an analy­sis cer­ti­fy­ing it extra virgin, or oth­er­wise.

In order to catch up with Oliver I con­tacted Professor Arnaldo D’Amico from the University of Rome Tor Vergata, since he con­ducted the first exper­i­ment for remote trans­mis­sion of olfac­tory sen­sa­tions of an elec­tronic nose.

D’Amico directed me to two of his asso­ciates, who are devel­op­ing a sensor entirely ded­i­cated to olive oil: Prof. Giorgio Pennazza and Prof. Marco Santonico, from the University Campus Bio-Medico of Rome, are coor­di­na­tors of a research group called the Electronics for Sensor Systems Unit that is devel­op­ing Oliver.

Their research method is based on an inter­est­ing mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary approach, which put elec­tron­ics at ser­vice of med­i­cine and nutri­tion through design, imple­men­ta­tion, test­ing and appli­ca­tions of sen­sors. Their pur­pose is to create prac­ti­cal sen­sors that are inex­pen­sive, user-friendly, fast and non­de­struc­tive.

Electronics for Sensor Systems Unit, University Campus Bio-Medico of Rome

Bionote (Biosensor-based system for mim­ic­k­ing mul­ti­sen­so­r­ial Nose, Tongue and Eyes) was born in this con­text.
See more: Students Design Device to Detect Indicators of Rancidity
The system is intended to mimic the work­ing prin­ci­ples of the nose, tongue and eyes. The work pro­poses to enlarge the con­cept of arti­fi­cial olfac­tion and taste, design­ing an inno­v­a­tive mul­ti­sen­so­r­ial system based on the bio-sens­ing mate­r­ial antho­cyanins.

Bionote sys­tems must be spe­cial­ized for every single type of food and they have already been designed for min­eral water, truf­fle, serum of moz­zarella cheese and chili pepper. Oliver is the sensor that deals specif­i­cally with the eval­u­a­tion of EVOO.

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“The idea came in February 2014, after the scan­dal trig­gered by the pub­li­ca­tion of a New York Times info­graphic on Italian olive oil fraud,” Pennazza revealed. “Italy had been accused of export­ing adul­ter­ated and low-qual­ity olive oil. We wel­comed the chal­lenge in a con­struc­tive way and decided to send a pos­i­tive mes­sage, show­ing Italian com­mit­ment to high qual­ity and devel­op­ing tech­nol­ogy for its preser­va­tion.”

Oliver’s struc­ture pro­vides an inter­nal elec­tronic card and a flap. In addi­tion to the low cost of test­ing, it oper­ates by simply putting the flap in liquid.

During test­ing, a track is simul­ta­ne­ously recorded and you can quickly figure out the type of oil and, if it is olive oil, whether it is virgin or extra virgin, or pos­si­bly adul­ter­ated.
Oliver is trained to cor­re­late infor­ma­tion with its inter­nal data­base to iden­tify sam­ples.

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“We want to high­light that with these tools you can skip some lab­o­ra­tory tests and bring down costs,” Santonico said. “Only if Oliver reveals that olive oil is adul­ter­ated, then you will send the sample to a lab­o­ra­tory to ana­lyze spe­cific fea­tures.”

So far, Oliver can per­ceive cer­tain adul­ter­ations, but the goal is to have a com­plete analy­sis range. Fluid test­ing is achiev­ing excel­lent results but the Unit is work­ing to develop fur­ther Bionote appli­ca­tions to detect gas sen­sa­tions and a com­plete mul­ti­sen­sory cross analy­sis to repro­duce as much as pos­si­ble human sensor analy­sis.

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Another impor­tant fea­ture is that Oliver can also detect nutri­tional aspects. “We are now per­form­ing this kind of analy­sis with chili pep­pers,” Santonico said. “There are by now meth­ods to mea­sure spici­ness (i.e. the amount of cap­saicin), how­ever with Bionote we can even detect species of fruit and nutri­tional values, specif­i­cally the antiox­i­dant amount,” Pennazza added. “Oliver can also iden­tify this nutri­tional value in EVOO.”