For Better Sensory Input, Get Some (Artificial) Whiskers

Vibrissal sensors, which mimic rodent whiskers, can make tasks safer and easier in a wide range of products, from firefighter helmets to vacuum cleaners.

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn

What's the Latest Development?

Sensor system design is going in a new direction by taking a page from the animal world: Scientists participating in the Biotact project studied various rodents to examine how whiskers worked and then created a set of robots that can move around using touch alone. "Vibrissal sensors" (taken from the technical term for whiskers, "vibrissae") allow the robots to feel its way around rather than bump into things, as well as provide the ability to follow another object in motion without moving themselves. Also, unlike other sensors, these keep working even when they're damaged, and can be replaced easily and cheaply.

What's the Big Idea?

Theoretically, "artificial whiskers" could be used in a wide range of applications. Tony Prescott, a professor participating in the BioTact project, says, "We wanted to ensure that these sensors can be used as universally as possible, so you could go into a store and buy one much like you can buy a webcam today and mount it on any robot or any device." Firefighters could use them in devices that help with finding people in danger, and they could be added to helmets to provide feedback about the environment. Medical and manufacturing industries could benefit as well. Currently, development costs are still high but Prescott and his team have already talked to companies: "[T]here's definitely interest in this." One potentially cool application: A better, much more sensitive robot vacuum cleaner.

Photo Credit:

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Think you’re bad at math? You may suffer from ‘math trauma’

Even some teachers suffer from anxiety about math.

Image credit: Getty Images
Mind & Brain

I teach people how to teach math, and I've been working in this field for 30 years. Across those decades, I've met many people who suffer from varying degrees of math trauma – a form of debilitating mental shutdown when it comes to doing mathematics.

Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

How KGB founder Iron Felix justified terror and mass executions

The legacy of Felix Dzerzhinsky, who led Soviet secret police in the "Red Terror," still confounds Russia.

Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Felix Dzerzhinsky led the Cheka, Soviet Union's first secret police.
  • The Cheka was infamous for executing thousands during the Red Terror of 1918.
  • The Cheka later became the KGB, the spy organization where Russia's President Putin served for years.
Keep reading Show less