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Here come the CATBOTS: Boffins build 'whisker sensors'

Carbon nanotube creation sensitive enough to 'feel' paper resting on a desk

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A combination of carbon nanotubes and silver nanoparticles has created a whisker-like sensor that can detect pressure as small as one Pascal, which they describe as “about the pressure exerted on a table surface by a dollar bill.”

The boffins at the Berkeley Lab and the University of California (UC) Berkeley (with DARPA support) have successfully tested their development to create a 3D map of wind flow using the setup pictured below.

“Our electronic whiskers consist of high-aspect-ratio elastic fibers 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,” says scientist Ali Javey in the lab's release.

To create the “whiskers”, the researchers first created a “paste” of carbon nanotubes to create a bendable, electrically-conductive matrix as the substrate. To this, they added a thin film of silver nanoparticles to detect the strain on the whiskers attached to the base.

Berkeley's whisker-like wind detector

LBL's e-whisker wind detector. Image: Berkeley Lab

“In the future, e-whiskers could be used to mediate tactile sensing for the spatial mapping of nearby objects, and could also lead to wearable sensors for measuring heartbeat and pulse rate,” the lab says.

The Berkeley group says their “e-whiskers” are lightweight and easy to fabricate, making them suitable for applications in robotics, human-machine interfaces and biology. ®

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