E-whiskers: highly sensitive tactile sensors for robotics and other applications

 Researchers with Berkeley Lab and the University of California (UC) Berkeley have created tactile sensors from composite films of carbon nanotubes and silver nanoparticles similar to the highly sensitive whiskers of cats and rats.
The new “e-whiskers” respond to pressure as slight as a single Pascal, about the pressure exerted on a table surface by a dollar bill. Among their potential applications is giving robots new abilities to “see” and “feel” their surrounding environment.
This is similar to the sensors used by certain mammals and insects to monitor wind and navigate around obstacles in tight spaces,” according to research team leader Ali Javey, a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and a UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer science.
Javey and his research group have been leaders in the development of e-skin and other flexible electronic devices that can interface with the environment.
In this latest effort, they used a carbon nanotube paste to form an electrically conductive network matrix with excellent bendability. To this carbon nanotube matrix they loaded a thin film of silver nanoparticles that endowed the matrix with high sensitivity to mechanical strain.