Brief Communication | Published:


Robotic whiskers used to sense features

Nature volume 443, page 525 (05 October 2006) | Download Citation



Whiskers mimicking those of seals or rats might be useful for underwater tracking or tactile exploration.

Several species of terrestrial and marine mammals with whiskers (vibrissae) use them to sense and navigate in their environment — for example, rats use their whiskers to discern the features of objects1, and seals rely on theirs to track the hydrodynamic trails of their prey2. Here we show that the bending moment — sometimes referred to as torque — at the whisker base can be used to generate three-dimensional spatial representations of the environment, and we use this principle to construct robotic whisker arrays that extract precise information about object shape and fluid flow. Our results will contribute to the development of versatile tactile-sensing systems for robotic applications, and demonstrate the value of hardware models in understanding how sensing mechanisms and movement control strategies are interlocked.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    , , , & J. Neurosci. 21, 5752–5763 (2001).

  2. 2.

    , & Nature 394, 235–236 (1998).

  3. 3.

    , & IEEE Trans. Robotic. Autom. 14, 278–291 (1998).

  4. 4.

    & IEEE Trans. Robotic. 22, 844–848 (2006).

  5. 5.

    et al. J. Neurophysiol. 95, 791–802 (2006).

  6. 6.

    , , & J. Neurosci. 23, 6499–6509 (2003).

  7. 7.

    , , & J. Neurosci. 23, 6510–6519 (2003).

Download references

Author information


  1. Department of Mechanical Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA

    • Joseph H. Solomon
  2. Department of Biomedical Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA

    • Mitra J. Hartmann


  1. Search for Joseph H. Solomon in:

  2. Search for Mitra J. Hartmann in:

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information


  1. 1.

    Supplementary movie

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary information

    Calculations and figures

About this article

Publication history





Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.