Electronic Whiskers Could Help Robots Detect Their Surroundings

Jan 22, 2014 06:51 AM EST | Matt Mercuro

Researchers have determined that pressure sensitive "whiskers" could help robots navigate and improve artificial skin, according to a recent study.

The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently.

The whiskers are made up of silver nanoparticles and carbon nanotubes and printed on elastic fibers.

"We can use this kind of device in many kinds of applications," said researcher Dr. Kuniharu Takei, of Osaka Prefecture University in Japan.

Whiskers are considered tactile sensors for specific animals like cats, according to the study. Whiskers found on a cat's face for example can help the animal navigate around objects.

Researchers have even been able to prove that the hairs on our skin can detect actions like a breeze, according to ABC Science.

Experts have been attempting for a while to develop electronic whiskers that could be used to help robots get around.

"Even if a robot can't see an object it can detect spatial distribution by using this device on the side of its arm or foot," says Takei.

Takei and colleagues believe that whiskers could help improve the development of artificial e-skin as well.

"The applications are mainly for robotic skin, prosthetic skin, and some other human interface devices," said Takei.

The researchers developed pressure sensors that are supposedly "ten times more sensitive" than any whiskers developed before. As each whisker bends, the distance from the nanoparticles changes, thus changing the electrical resistance of the whisker, according to ABC Science.

Carbon nanotubes helps keep electrical flow when the silver nanoparticles are far apart. It can also increase the "range of pressure" that the whisker can sense, according to Takei.

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