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.
Megan Fellman | EurekAlert!
Japanese researchers develop ultrathin, highly elastic skin display
19.02.2018 | University of Tokyo
Why bees soared and slime flopped as inspirations for systems engineering
19.02.2018 | Georgia Institute of Technology
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.
But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...
Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.
The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...
Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters
Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.02.2018 | Life Sciences