Tapered Polymer Whiskers to Enable Three-Dimensional Tactile Feature Extraction.


Many mammals use their vibrissae (whiskers) to tactually explore their surrounding environment. Vibrissae are thin tapered structures that transmit mechanical signals to a wealth of mechanical receptors (sensors) located in a follicle at each vibrissal base. A recent study has shown that-provided that the whisker is tapered-three mechanical signals at the base are sufficient to determine the three-dimensional location at which a whisker made contact with an object. However, creating biomimetic tapered whiskers has proved challenging from both materials and manufacturing standpoints. This study develops and characterizes an artificial whisker for use as part of a sensory input device that is a biomimic of the biological rat whisker neurosensory system. A novel manufacturing process termed surface conforming fiber drawing (SCFD) is developed to produce artificial whiskers that meet the requirements to be a successful mechanical and geometric mimic of the biological rat vibrissae. Testing the sensory capabilities of the artificial whisker shows improved performance over previous nontapered filaments. SCFD-manufactured tapered whiskers demonstrate the ability to predict contact point locations with a median distance error of 0.47 cm.