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Researchers Unveil Whiskered Robot Rat


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SCRATCHbot schematic

A schematic of the SCRATCHbot robot, which was demonstrated earlier this month at an international workshop.

Credit: Weizmann Institute of Science

Researchers from the Bristol Robotics Lab — a partnership between the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol — and the University of Sheffield have developed SCRATCHbot, a robotic rat that can look for and identify objects using its whiskers. SCRATCHbot is part of the pan-European ICEA project to develop biologically inspired artificial intelligence systems.

Bristol Robotics Lab researchers are working with a University of Sheffield psychologist to develop innovative artificial touch technologies for robots that also will help researchers understand how the brain controls the movement of sensory systems. SCRATCHbot relies solely on sophisticated touch technology to identify objects, enabling it to operate in environments with poor visibility. The technology could be used in robots designed to work underground, underwater or in dusty or smoky conditions that would inhibit sight-based robots. The technology also could be use for the tactile inspection of surfaces or in domestic products such as vacuums equipped with sensors to optimize cleaning.

Whiskers have several advantages over sensory systems that are more familiar to humans. For example, touch-based sensors are usually located on the fingertips, where they are vulnerable to damage, but rats can continue to use their whiskers if some break, and in theory broken robot whiskers could be easily replaced without affecting the robot's operations.

From University of West of England, Bristol
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