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E-Whiskers: Berkeley Researchers Develop Highly Sensitive Tactile Sensors For Robotics and Other Applications

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The researchers used an array of seven vertically placed e-whiskers for 3D mapping of the wind.

Tactile sensors created from composite films of carbon nanotubes and silver nanoparticles could give robots new abilities to "see" and "feel" their surroundings.

Credit: Ali Javey

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley have created tactile sensors from composite films of carbon nanotubes and silver nanoparticles similar to the highly sensitive whiskers of cats and rats.

The researchers say their e-whiskers are very sensitive and could give robots new abilities to "see" and "feel" their surrounding environments. "Our electronic whiskers consist of high-aspect-ratio elastic fibers coated with conductive composite films of nanotubes and nanoparticles," says Berkeley professor Ali Javey. "In tests, these whiskers were 10 times more sensitive to pressure than all previously reported capacitive or resistive pressure sensors."

The researchers used a carbon nanotube paste to form an electrically conductive network matrix with excellent bendability. They then loaded a thin film of silver nanoparticles that endowed the matrix with high sensitivity to mechanical strain.

"The composite can then be painted or printed onto high-aspect-ratio elastic fibers to form e-whiskers that can be integrated with different user-interactive systems," Javey says.

The researchers say they successfully used their e-whiskers to demonstrate highly accurate two- and three-dimensional mapping of wind flow. "The ease of fabrication, light weight, and excellent performance of our e-whiskers should have a wide range of applications for advanced robotics, human-machine user interfaces, and biological applications," Javey predicts.

From Berkeley Lab News Center
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