SCRATCHbot is a robotic rat with whiskers. Created by researchers at University of Sheffield and the Bristol Robotics Lab, SCRATCHbot uses whiskers as part of their effort to create biologically-inspired artificial intelligence systems.
Professor Tony Prescott, of the University of Sheffield's Department of Psychology, said: "Our project has reached a significant milestone in the development of actively-controlled, whisker-like sensors for intelligent machines. Although touch sensors are already employed in robots, the use of touch as a principal modality has been overlooked until now. By developing these biomimetic robots, we are not just designing novel touch-sensing devices, but also making a real contribution to understanding the biology of tactile sensing."
This research is not intended to merely produce cute robots that wiggle their whiskers. The intent is to find ways for robots to operate in extremely dusty environments or other places where machine vision works poorly.
The first efforts to create whiskered robots date from 2005; see the article on AMouse to learn more.
This development was predicted in detail by science fiction writers. In his 1950 story There Will Come Soft Rains, Ray Bradbury wrote about a fully automated house with little cleaning robots with whiskers:
Out of warrens in the wall, tiny robot mice darted. The rooms were acrawl with the small cleaning animals, all rubber and metal. They thudded against chairs, whirling their mustached runners, kneading the rug nap, sucking gently at hidden dust.
(Read more about Ray Bradbury's robot mouse)