Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Robotic Whiskers Can Sense Three-dimensional Environment

Date:
October 11, 2006
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Two Northwestern University engineers have been studying the whisker system of rats to better understand how mechanical information from the whiskers gets transmitted to the brain. Now they have developed arrays of robotic whiskers that sense in two dimensions and that can sense information about both object shape and fluid flow. The arrays could find application on assembly lines, in pipelines or on land-based autonomous rovers or underwater vehicles.

Gradual extraction of information about an object shape using a robotic whisker array (whisker lengths are 2, 3, 4 and 5 cm). The image shows the robotic array in front of a small sculpted head. (Figure Credit: JH Solomon, Northwestern University)

Many mammals use their whiskers to explore their environment and to construct a three-dimensional image of their world. Rodents, for example, use their whiskers to determine the size, shape and texture of objects, and seals use their whiskers to track the fluid wakes of their prey.

Related Articles


Two Northwestern University engineers have been studying the whisker system of rats to better understand how mechanical information from the whiskers gets transmitted to the brain and to develop artificial whisker arrays for engineering applications.

Mitra J. Hartmann, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Joseph H. Solomon, one of Hartmann's graduate students, have now developed arrays of robotic whiskers that sense in two dimensions, mimicking the capabilities of mammalian whiskers. They demonstrate that the arrays can sense information about both object shape and fluid flow.

A paper about the arrays, which may find application on assembly lines, in pipelines or on land-based autonomous rovers or underwater vehicles, was published in the Oct. 5 issue of the journal Nature.

"We show that the bending moment, or torque, at the whisker base can be used to generate three-dimensional spatial representations of the environment," said Hartmann. "We used this principle to make arrays of robotic whiskers that in many respects closely replicate rat whiskers." The technology, she said, could be used to extract the three-dimensional features of almost any solid object.

Rat whiskers move actively in one dimension, rotating at their base in a plane roughly parallel to the ground. When the whiskers hit an object, they can be deflected backwards, upwards or downwards by contact with the object. The mechanical bending of the whisker activates many thousands of sensory receptors located in the follicle at the whisker base. The receptors, in turn, send neural signals to the brain, where a three-dimensional image is presumably generated.

Hartmann and Solomon showed that their robotic whiskers could extract information about object shape by "whisking" (sweeping) the whiskers across a small sculpted head, which was chosen specifically for its complex shape. As the whiskers move across the object, strain gauges sense the bending of the whiskers and thus determine the location of different points on the head. A computer program then "connects the dots" to create a three-dimensional representation of the object.

The researchers also showed that a slightly different whisker array -- one in which the whiskers were widened to provide more surface area -- could determine the speed and direction of the flow of a fluid, much like a seal tracks the wake of prey.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation (award IOB0446391), NASA's CICT/ITSR Revolutionary Computing Algorithms project and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Robotic Whiskers Can Sense Three-dimensional Environment." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 October 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061007002425.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2006, October 11). Robotic Whiskers Can Sense Three-dimensional Environment. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061007002425.htm
Northwestern University. "Robotic Whiskers Can Sense Three-dimensional Environment." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061007002425.htm (accessed March 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Lioness Has Rare Five-Cub Litter

Raw: Lioness Has Rare Five-Cub Litter

AP (Mar. 27, 2015) — A lioness in Pakistan has given birth to five cubs, twice the usual size of a litter. Queen gave birth to two other cubs just nine months ago. (March 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jockey Motion Tracking Reveals Racing Prowess

Jockey Motion Tracking Reveals Racing Prowess

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 26, 2015) — Using motion tracking technology, researchers from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) are trying to establish an optimum horse riding style to train junior jockeys, as well as enhance safety, health and well-being of both racehorses and jockeys. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bear Cubs Tumble for the Media

Bear Cubs Tumble for the Media

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Mar. 26, 2015) — Two Andean bear cubs are unveiled at the U.S. National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Alicia Powell reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Botswana Talks to End Illegal Wildlife Trade

Botswana Talks to End Illegal Wildlife Trade

AFP (Mar. 25, 2015) — Experts are gathering in Botswana to try to end the illegal wildlife trade that is decimating populations of elephants, rhinos and other threatened species. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins