BIOmimetric Technology for vibrissal ACtive Touch


Closing your eyes and exploring your surroundings with your fingertips provides an experience that is rich and immediate. While vision supplies information about distant objects, touch is invaluable in sensing the nearby environment. However, in designing intelligent, life-like machines, such as robots, the touch modality has been largely overlooked; current systems make only limited use of tactile sensors for simple tasks such as detecting physical contact. Biology, by contrast, reveals an abundant use of tactile sensing in the animal kingdom. Indeed, in nocturnal creatures, or those that inhabit poorly-lit places, touch is widely preferred to vision as a primary means of discovering the world. The tactile senses of many mammals are built around arrays of facial hairs known as whiskers or vibrissae.

In this project we will develop new technologies inspired by the whisker morphology and neural processing systems of two such tactile specialists: the Norwegian rat and the Etruscan shrew. These animals sweep their whiskers back and forth at high speeds in a controlled and feedback-sensitive manner. This active touch capacity allows them to: (i) maximize their intake of useful information; (ii) solve perceptual tasks such as determining the position, shape, and surface texture of encountered objects; (iii) encode tactile memories that allow recognition of familiar items; and (iv) track and capture prey animals using touch signals alone.

Using our understanding of these vibrissal systems, we will develop two biometric artifacts endowed with similar sensing capabilities: a novel active tactile sensing array, termed a BIOTACT sensor, with many hundreds of whisker-like sensing elements, and an autonomous whiskered robot that can seek-out, identify, and track fast-moving target objects. Overall, our project will bring about a step-change in the understanding of active touch sensing and in the use of whisker-life sensors in intelligent machines.

Principal Investigators
Brecht, Michael Prof. Dr. (Details) (Animal Physiology/Systems Neurobiology and Neural Computation)

Duration of Project
Start date: 01/2008
End date: 06/2012

Last updated on 2020-02-12 at 09:23