Robots with whiskers might sound odd, but, according to researchers at the University of California-Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, silver nano particle and carbon nanotube whisker-like sensors on robots might enable the robots to collect and analyze data and bring human/robot interfaces closer to reality. Who knows? Whiskers on robots might become one of your “favorite things,” along with “Raindrops on roses” and “warm woolen mittens.”
Human skin continuously feeds you information about your environment, like how hot or cold the wind feels blowing against your skin, or what it feels like to brush up against a spiderweb or fall down and scrape up your arm or leg.
An animals whiskers are somewhat similar, serving many purposes, allowing animals to better analyze their environments, take in scents, detect vibrations, and navigate while swimming, among other things.
If robots were given whiskers to help them detect minute variations in their environments better, and to know how much pressure to use to pick up objects without destroying them, or could feel the difference between one sort of skin texture compare to another one, they could have an even greater number of potential applications as they do now.
The electronic whiskers (e-whiskers) which the researchers at the University of California-Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are modeled loosely on rat or cat whiskers. They are able to detect pressure as minute as a dollar someone places upon a table.
According to research team leader Ali Javey,the e-whiskers “were 10 times more sensitive to pressure than all previously reported” sensors. The sensors are made of elastic fibers which are then coated with silver nanoparticals and carbon nanatubes.
The nanotubes and also help to ensure that human bones might be protected better. The nanotubes lend the whiskers greater conductivity and flexibility, while nanoparticules help them sense when they are even slightly bent.
Within human/robot interfaces, the whiskers could be used in a wide range of applications. They could be used, for instance, to sense someone’s pulse or heartbeat, or even to help create 3-D models of wind flow. The whiskers could also become an integral part of the robots’ artificial electronic skins, so that their experiences become more life-like.
Also, Javey added that the sensitivity of the film the researchers are using to make the whiskers can be finely-tuned simply “by changing the composition ratio of the carbon nanotubes and the silver nanoparticles.”
The whiskers, or e-whiskers, that Javey and his team of fellow researchers have developed can be used to make accurate wind flow readings, both in 2D and 3D. Also, eventually the whiskers can be used to spatially map objects,
What’s more, the whiskers are relatively easy to make, perform well, and are light-weight. They can be used in a wide range of applications, and electronic or e-whiskers are an invention that makes the robots just a little bit more like humans, able to feel more of the same things that humans feel. Javey and his team of co-authors, including Toshitake Takahashi, Kuniharu Takei, Hiroki Ota,
Maxwell Zheng, and Zhibin Yu, have published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Written by: Douglas Cobb