Researchers in nanotechnology have been inspired by the anatomical brilliance of the cat’s whisker. Cats’ whiskers are amazing. They are supersensitive at their base to the point where even small changes in air currents that pass over them can be detected by the cat from which the cat can then work out the structures that are around him in very dark conditions.
The basic technology of the cat’s whisker is being incorporated into robotics such that at some time in the not to distant future a man-made version of the cat’s whisker will assist surgeons using keyhole surgery to be able to feel what they’re doing with the result that their surgery will be more precise.
Keyhole surgery has dramatically reduced the recovery times of patients undergoing surgery. However, the surgeon is working at a distance from the organ inside the person’s body. He is using robotics and a television image to guide him. This is high quality equipment but it lacks feel. If you add what has been described as “e-whiskers” to the operating end of the robotic arm during keyhole surgery (a pressure sensitive area), the surgeon will be able to work with greater precision. That is the theory.
Ali Javey, a faculty scientist at Berkely Lab’s Material Sciences Division and a UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer science said:
“Our electronic whiskers consist of high-aspect-ratio elastic fibres coated with conductive composite films of nanotubes and nanoparticles. In tests, these whiskers were 10 times more sensitive to pressure than all previously reported capacitive or resistive pressure sensors.”
You see how cats can inspire us. Their abilities are noted and appreciated by scientists. Let’s hope some of that rubs of on the general population with enhanced welfare via greater respect.
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Associated: Safer cycling thanks to cats’ whiskers!