Robo-rodent Gets 'Touchy-feely'

Photo: A mouse

Researchers from Italy, Germany and Switzerland developed a 'feeling' robot by developing a new sensor modelled on hypersensitive mouse whiskers. These AMouse researchers developed a large series of different sensors based on a wide variety of 'whisker' types. These new sensors were then added to mainly standard Khepera research robots.

This not only gave the researchers insight into how mouse whiskers do their job, it also enabled them to develop prototypes that can be used to distinguish between different textures or an object.

The team demonstrated a real zest for innovation in their whisker design. One team from the University of Zurich used a variety of materials, from plastic to human hair. This was attached to the condenser plate of a microphone. As the whisker encountered an object or surface, the whisker deformed the microphone diaphragm in a measurable way, allowing researchers to track characteristic signals from particular surfaces. The researchers then experimented with various whisker arrays and designs, to discover the optimal profile.

Even more exciting, however, were the results from 'multimodal' sensor experiments. These use a combination of vision and touch through whisker and light or camera sensors. The mix of sensory inputs revealed how different data sources affect each other and how they combine to provide a clearer perception of any particular object.

It will help develop robots that can evolve and it will also teach us much about human cognition. "We can study neural pathways and neural coding in a machine, in a way that's currently impossible in humans. In a robot we can isolate a particular neural pathway to see what happens to other neurons when we trigger a specific one. In humans, if we stimulate one neuron it will influence changes a large number of other neurons, so it's impossible to track what's going on”, says Dr Andreas K. Engel, professor at the University Medical Centre Hamburg.

COMPAMED.de; Source: IST Results