Researchers from Berkeley Lab and the University of California have created highly sensitive tactile sensors out of nanotubes and silver nanoparticles based upon the whiskers of rats and cats. The new whiskers respond to pressure as light as a single Pascal, i.e. about the pressure exerted by a dollar bill on a table surface.
Whiskers in animals are hair-like sensors which helps them to navigate and monitor wind around obstacles. The e-whiskers created by researchers consist of composite films of nanotubes and nanoparticles. The use of elastic fibres with a small spring as constant as the structural component of the whiskers provides large deflection and therefore high strain in response to the smallest applied pressures. The whiskers were tested by using them to demonstrate highly accurate 2D and 3D mapping of the wind flow.
The whiskers which are 10 times more sensitive to pressure than all previously reported capacitive or resistive pressure sensors, possess the potential to be used in tactile sensing for spatial mapping of objects and also lead to wearable sensors for measuring heartbeat and pulse rate.