A collaboration of nine research groups from Europe, Israel, and the US have teamed up to build a robotic rat with a unique feature: it has functioning whiskers!
Traditionally, sensors used for robotics are usually non-contact based, such as vision sensors, laser range finders, and ultra-sonic transducers. However, all of these technologies have their limitations, especially in dark or harsh environments.
Scientists participating in the project took a cue from nature and developed a whiskered robo-rat that learns about its surrounding through its sense of touch.
The project has enabled the scientists to begin to understand why a real rat's sense of touch is so efficient, which could enable this technology to be used in more sophisticated applications in the future. According to Prof. Ehud Ahissar of the Weizmann Institute of Science's Neurobiology Department, "implementing this biological knowledge will hopefully allow robotics researchers to build machines that are more efficient, which can be used in rescue missions, as well as search missions under conditions of restricted visibility", perhaps even planetary exploration.