Washington, Feb 13 : An international team of scientists from Europe, Israel and the US are developing robotic rats, which will aid in rescue missions.
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, which 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,' said Professor Ehud Ahissar of the Weizmann Institute of Science's Neurobiology Department, whose research team is one of the groups participating in the multinational project.
According to Ahissar, '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 animal's sense of touch so efficient, we will be able to develop robots imitating this feature, and put them to effective use,' said Ahissar.
According to Ahissar, the aim of this research is to help gain a better understanding of the brain on the one hand, and advance technology on the other.
Researchers can use robots as an experimental tool, by building a brain-like system, step-by-step, gaining insights into the workings of the brain's inside components.
"With regard to technological applications, we suggest that it is the multiple closed feedback loops that are the key features giving biological systems an advantage over robotic systems," said Ahissar.
"Therefore, implementing this biological knowledge will hopefully allow robotics researchers to build machines that are more efficient, which can be used in rescue missions, as well as search missions under conditions of restricted visibility," he added.