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Robotic Whiskers

November 13, 2006

When it comes to the sense of feel, whiskers are some of nature’s greatest creations. Now engineers can make them, too.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
Robotic whiskers. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

In the future, autonomous robots could use artificial whiskers to help them sense their surroundings. In fact, engineers Mitra Hartmann and Joseph Solomon of Northwestern University have built a prototype of robotic whiskers that may work a lot like those on rats. Hartmann says the key is to measure how much the whiskers bend as they sweep across an object.

MITRA HARTMANN (Northwestern University):
And suppose an object is in close and the whisker rotates into it. Well, then the whisker’s going to bend a lot very quickly. If the object is far away, and it’s rotating at the same speed, then it’s not going to bend as much.

HIRSHON:
Using this system, her team was able to re-create a 3-D image of a face. Aside from helping autonomous robots navigate, the whiskers could check parts on an assembly line, feel for obstructions in pipelines, or generate 3-D models.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.