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Animal-inspired robot uses whiskers to sense the world

An odd-looking robot uses an array of whiskers to sense obstacles to avoid them.

It looks a little bit like the Black Mercy of DC Comics, but these whiskered sensors could equip robots with a means of navigating the world around them. Much like animals use their whiskers as an additional sense of touch, the Bellabot robotic platform uses whiskers to feel its way forward.

According to the abstract of a paper presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation last week in Stockholm Sweden, the robot's whiskers are actuated with electro-active polymer "muscles". A standard industrial robotic manipulator allows the robot to move around, and a camera provides visual error feedback. When the whiskers sense an object, the robot recoils and seeks a different route.

"The algorithm learns to accommodate imperfections in the sensory map that may be as a result of poor manufacturing tolerances or damage to the sensory array," the abstract reads. "Such an ability is an important pre-requisite for robust tactile robotic systems operating in the real-world for extended periods of time."