Researchers Develop ‘Whiskers’ That Allow Robots to Move More Safely


Flinders University researchers are developing flexible and highly responsive ‘whiskers’ to attach to robots, giving them more ability to move safely.

Like a rat’s whiskers, the sensors can overcome a robot’s range-finder or camera blind spots, which may not see or register an object close by, says Flinders College of Science and Engineering PhD candidate Simon Pegoli. Additionally, whiskers uncover properties of objects, such as moveability, not possible with cameras or regular range-finder sensors.

Pegoli was the lead author in an article, Optimising Electromechanical Whisker Design for Contact Localisation, that was recently published in the journal Sensors and Actuators A: Physical, and detailed the research.

Using mechanical beam theory, the Flinders researchers worked on developing an optimal whisker shape so that robots could use the whisker attachments to touch and interpret the weight of objects they run into, potentially moving the obstacles out of their path and avoiding damage.

While lasers and camera vision areare used to instruct robot movement, the additional support of lightweight, cheap, and flexible whiskers would give workplace and domestic robots additional tactile abilities in confined or cluttered spaces.

“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,” said Pegoli. “We’ll continue to put these electro-mechanical whisker prototypes to the test in problematic scenarios so the robot’s operating system will eventually know how to respond to the information they gather.”

Dr Russell Brinkworth, an Associate Professor in Autonomous Systems at Flinders University, focuses on applying robotics to real-world scenarios and is helping researchers build artificial systems that can adapt to different 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,” said Brinkworth. “These 3D printed sensor whiskers could be fitted at a low cost and give robots many useful additional capacities.”


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