Researchers at Flinders University are developing ‘whiskers’ for robots. 

These nature-inspired whiskers are designed to attach to robots to enhance tactile sensing in environments where traditional sensors like lasers and cameras have limitations.

PhD candidate Simon Pegoli from Flinders College of Science and Engineering says that the addition can address the blind spots of range-finders and cameras, enabling robots to detect and navigate around objects in close proximity. 

“Like a rat’s whiskers, these sensors can be used to overcome a robot’s range-finder or camera blind spots which may not ‘see’ or register an object close by,” Pegoli says. 

The high-tech whiskers can also determine properties of objects such as moveability, which are beyond the scope of standard sensors.

The research team is using mechanical beam theory to optimise the whisker design. 

This design will allow robots to “touch and interpret the weight of objects they run into, potentially moving the obstacles out of their path and also avoid damage,” Pegoli says. 

“Every space is different, so giving robots effective tactile sensor systems to map their tasks and ‘visualise’ movement in their range will advance their abilities,” he added. 

The whiskers are being tested in various challenging scenarios to refine the robots' ability to respond to sensory data. 

Dr Russell Brinkworth, Associate Professor in Autonomous Systems at Flinders University, says the advance will help with transitioning robotics from laboratory settings to real-world environments. 

“We would like to see these whiskers function in a way similar to how our fingertips can assess the weight, shape, and kind of object before us,” Dr Brinkworth states. 

The 3D-printed sensor whiskers are designed to be both low-cost and highly functional, offering significant improvements to robotic operations in diverse settings.

More details are accessible here.