Robots are borrowing from rodents to get better at sensing their surroundings.
University of Queensland engineer Dr Pauline Pounds looked to the animal kingdom for inspiration in building affordable sensors for robots and drones.
Dr Pounds has developed highly sensitive whiskers which will allow robots to sense interactions before making contact.
This will allow drones to navigate and stabilise flight through dark, dusty and cramped spaces, or gusty, turbulent environments without having to mount heavier sensors.
The whiskers are so sensitive they can measure human breath from half a metre away and sense weight smaller than a flea.
Made from the same plastic material that 3D printer extruders use, the whiskers are practically cheaper than cheddar, with the whole hardware costing a mere $30.
Dr Pounds says robots with a better sense of peripersonal space – the region immediately around but not touching a person – could be used in a range of industries.
“You can use the whiskers anywhere you want to measure force, like in machining applications, in industrial fabrication, in medicine, in marine systems, in aerospace – the possibilities are endless,” she says.
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