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Scientists from Europe, Israel and the US develop robotic rats to aid in rescue missions
Date:2/11/2008

A new initiative, bringing together nine research groups from seven countries, including teams of robotics and brain researchers from Europe, the USA and Israel, has recently been set up with the aim of imitating nature.

Based on principles of active sensing adopted widely in the animal kingdom, the multinational team is developing innovative touch technologies, including a 'whiskered' robotic rat. The whiskered robot will be able to quickly locate, identify and capture moving objects. 'The use of touch in the design of artificial intelligence systems has been largely overlooked, until now,' says Prof. Ehud Ahissar of the Weizmann Institute of Sciences Neurobiology Department, whose research team is one of the groups participating in the multinational project.

'In nocturnal creatures, or those that inhabit poorly-lit places, the use of touch is widely preferred to vision as a primary means of learning and receiving physical information about their surrounding environment.' One such animal that employs this method is the rat. Several groups of the international consortium are investigating the ways in which rats use their bristly whiskers to explore their environment, and how the brain processes such information. 'If we succeed in understanding what makes an animals sense of touch so efficient, we will be able to develop robots imitating this feature, and put them to effective use.'

What is the whiskers 'secret'" Why is the sense of touch through a rats whiskers much more efficient than that of the average persons finger tips" The consortiums teams have provided some insights into these questions. One explanation concerns the way in which the sensory system works: Whiskers actively sweep back and forth repetitively, accumulating information about its surrounding environment. The sensing begins in the neurons at the whiskers bases, which then fire signals off to the brain. Moreover, experiments have shown that the way in which
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Contact: Yivsam Azgad
news@weizmann.ac.il
972-893-43856
Weizmann Institute of Science
Source:Eurekalert  

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Scientists from Europe, Israel and the US develop robotic rats to aid in rescue missions
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