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Nature. 2006 Oct 5;443(7111):525.

Biomechanics: robotic whiskers used to sense features.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA.


Whiskers mimicking those of seals or rats might be useful for underwater tracking or tactile exploration. Several species of terrestrial and marine mammals with whiskers (vibrissae) use them to sense and navigate in their environment--for example, rats use their whiskers to discern the features of objects, and seals rely on theirs to track the hydrodynamic trails of their prey. Here we show that the bending moment--sometimes referred to as torque--at the whisker base can be used to generate three-dimensional spatial representations of the environment, and we use this principle to construct robotic whisker arrays that extract precise information about object shape and fluid flow. Our results will contribute to the development of versatile tactile-sensing systems for robotic applications, and demonstrate the value of hardware models in understanding how sensing mechanisms and movement control strategies are interlocked.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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