Japanese researchers have designed a rescue robot who can detect human smell and can be used to find people trapped under rubble, land or sand in disaster zones.

The researchers will draw on the ability of mosquitoes to distinguish the smell of animal or human perspiration to create a small sensor that will be fitted to an unmanned drone or a similar device.

The research team will begin developing the robot next month, with an eye on putting them to practical use by 2020, Yomiuri newspaper reported on its website Thursday.

The group will consist of researchers from the University of Tokyo, Kanagawa Academy of Science and Technology, and chemical company Sumitomo Chemical.

Mosquitoes have odorant-binding proteins in their antennae, which respond with high sensitivity to the smell of human sweat in the air while searching for prey.

The researchers will use mosquito genes to artificially synthesize these proteins and then fit them into an electrical device, Yomiuri said.

The sensor will be calibrated to respond if there is at least one part per million (0.0001 percent) of sweat odorant in the air.

Dogs are usually used to find missing people during search and rescue operations.

However, they can only work for a limited time at a stretch and need proper instructions from their instructors; moreover search efforts could also be affected in high-risk situations.

"The mechanism the insects have to distinguish smells is far simpler than that of mammals, and therefore easier to handle. It would be appropriate for a small-sized sensor," Yomiuri cited Prof. Shoji Takeuchi, of the University of Tokyo and leader of the research group.