Long plastic whiskers at the side of the robot's head move back and forth up to 5 times per second to detect nearby objects. If a whisker touches something, control software determines the location of the obstacle and orients the robot's head and body so that shorter bristles on its nose can make contact with it.
Unlike other robots, SCRATCHbot does not have supplemental cameras for navigation and relies entirely on its whiskers. The next generation robot will be able to distinguish between different textures and then determine how to navigate based on that information.
So far, researchers have spent £ 500,000 over six years developing the prototype.
The project was inspired by the use of touch in the animal kingdom – specifically how rats explore their environments using whiskers in poorly-lit places. The rodents can determine the texture, position and shape of objects using rhythmic sweeping movements of their whiskers.
For a quick video of the SCRATCHbot, watch the below.
♦ Photo of New York City building collapse by Joel_Raskin/Flickr