How your common house cat and robotics research find their common ground is in how the felines perceive the world around them: their whiskers. Scientifically speaking, whiskers are what are known as "tactile hairs," and in cats they aid in measuring their surroundings and sensing minute differences in the world around them. (Even the slightest shift in the breeze.)
This got Berkeley Labs' researchers thinking about how robots might benefit from similar real-time information. After all, even the most advanced robots out there can hardly be described as having cat-like reflexes. To that end, led by Dr. Ali Javey, a team of researchers set out to create robotic nano-whiskers. Made up of a composite film containing carbon nanotubes and silver nanoparticles, the robot whiskers they came up with don't exactly look like those you might see on your neighborhood alley cat, but they're just as sensitive.
According to their research, these e-whiskers can sense pressure differences as minute as a single Pascal. Depending on the ratio of carbon nanotubes to silver nanoparticles, the e-whiskers can even be fine-tuned to better measure physical strain or resist electrical current.
Tomorrow's robots, able to feel and sense the world around them, will certainly owe our cuddly little balls of fluff wrapped around a core of sharpened claws and mood swings a debt of gratitude.