BIOTACT Whiskered Robot Rat

The BIOTACT (BIOmimetic Technology for vibrissal ACtive Touch) project seeks to develop robots with innovative artificial touch technologies. One of the first whiskered robot prototypes is shown in the picture below.


(BIOTACT whiskered robot rat)

Professor Tony Prescott of the University of Sheffield´s Department of Psychology leads the BIOTACT project's efforts to develop robots that can use touch in poorly lit or cluttered environments, as animals do. The Norwegian rat and the Etruscan shrew, for example, use their whiskers to make sense of their environment. The mammals sweep their whiskers back and forth at high speeds in a controlled manner, allowing them to use touch signals alone to recognize familiar items quickly. Prescot remarks:

"Overall, our project will bring about a step-change in the understanding of active touch sensing and in the use of whisker-like sensors in intelligent machines. Today´s life-like machines, such as robots, don´t make effective use of touch. By learning from nature and developing technologies that do use this physical sense, our researchers will be able to enhance the capabilities of the machines of the future."


(BIOTACT whiskered robot rat design)

BIOTACT whisker technology could have a number of possible applications ranging from search and rescue robots that could pick their way through rubble and debris to planetary rovers in space. It has been noted that this technology could also be used in domestic products, like vacuum cleaners that could sense textures for optimal cleaning.

In his 1950 story There Will Come Soft Rains, Ray Bradbury wrote about a fully automated house with little cleaning robots:

Out of warrens in the wall, tiny robot mice darted. The rooms were acrawl with the small cleaning animals, all rubber and metal. They thudded against chairs, whirling their mustached runners, kneading the rug nap, sucking gently at hidden dust.
(Read more about Ray Bradbury's robot mouse)

The BIOTACT TEAM is not the first to seek whiskered robots; read about the AMouse with real whiskers for more information.

Via Robot rat to lead the way in touch technology; see also Scientists develop robotic rats to aid in rescue missions.

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