Shrewbot, like the Etruscan shrew, uses its whiskers to sense the fine details of its environment.
(Shrewbot Uses Whiskers As Sensors)
The shrew sweeps its whiskers back and forth at high speeds and through picking up vibrations it gathers information from the environment such as the location, shape and texture of objects. It then stores this information in its memory.
Professor Tony Prescott (University of Sheffield) says, “When the whiskers touch an object this causes them to vibrate and the vibration pattern is picked up by sensitive cells in the hair follicle at the base of the whisker. These patterns are turned into an electrical signal which is sent to the brain, enabling the mammal to make instant decisions about its environment to help it move around or catch prey. The whiskers have another advantage over some other forms of tactile touch. Whiskers themselves are easily replaceable since the sensory cells are at the base of the whisker, not the top, unlike our fingers for example, which are more easily damaged and hard to replace.”
The research has developed man-made whiskers that can move separately and are mounted on a mobile robot. They mimic the capability of the shrew by capturing information in the robot’s environment and allow it to make decisions about how to move in a particular environment.
In his wonderful 1950 tale There Will Come Soft Rains, sf Grandmaster Ray Bradbury wrote about a fully automated house with tiny cleaning robots:
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)