Animals with whiskers use these large hairs to probe and sense the environment around them. Their connecting hair follicle contains lots of nerves, making them highly sensitive and allowing the animal to feel with the whiskers. These nerve endings can sense changes in air or fluid around them when the whiskers shift, and detect when there’s direct contact with an object as the whiskers bend. Mimicking this biological system, scientists have developed a ‘robotic whisker array’ using everyday objects – plastic straws, lego blocks and a hairdryer. The straw takes the place of whiskers and an air current is created by the hairdryer; sensors at the base of the straw monitor how the straw responds to changes in the air current by monitoring their movement and shape. Robo-whiskers could potentially be used for many medical applications for example keyhole surgery, where high precision and tactile feedback are needed.
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.