Whisker-twitching robot rat can work in the dark

Sheffield, UK – You have to ask whether they’ve really thought this through: using a giant robot rat to find disaster survivors. Victims might just decide to stay where they are.

To be fair, the robot – which detects its surroundings by touching them with its whiskers – has a whole range of other applications, including working underground or underwater.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield and the Bristol Robotics Lab were inspired to develop the Scratchbot by rats, which are especially effective at exploring their environments using their whiskers. They can accurately determine the position, shape and texture of objects using precise rhythmic sweeping movements of their whiskers, make rapid accurate decisions about objects, and then use the information to build environmental maps.

“Future applications for this technology could include using robots underground, under the sea, or in extremely dusty conditions, where vision is often a seriously compromised sensory modality,” said Dr Tony Pipe from the Bristol Robotics Lab.

“Here, whisker technology could be used to sense objects and manoeuvre in a difficult environment. In a smoke filled room for example, a robot like this could help with a rescue operation by locating survivors of a fire.”