Whether you think about it or not, your skin is constantly feeding you information about your surroundings: how strong the wind is blowing, or if you are brushing against a wall. For many animals, whiskers augment these sensations, and can also help animals locate objects, navigate through water and more. Robots, it turns out, would also benefit from having whiskers.
From the world of nanotechnology we’ve gotten electronic skin, or e-skin, and electronic eye implants or e-eyes. Now we’re on the verge of electronic whiskers. Researchers with Berkeley Lab and the University of California (UC) Berkeley have created tactile sensors from composite films of carbon nanotubes and silver nanoparticles similar to the highly sensitive whiskers of cats and rats. These new e-whiskers respond to pressure as slight as a single Pascal, about the pressure exerted on a table surface by a dollar bill. Among their many potential applications is giving robots new abilities to “see” and “feel” their surrounding environment.