Published in Advanced Materials, an important research conducted at the University of Texas at Dallas has helped create an electronic, artificial variant of whiskers called e-whiskers with the use of shape-memory polymers. E-whiskers are observed to copy the properties of real whiskers. As per the researchers, engineering of electronic human skin could see telling advancement with the application of e-whiskers.

Northwestern University’s postdoctoral researcher, Jonathan Reeder BS’12, Ph.D.’16 said that researchers have conducted tests on a blindfolded seal supposed to track a fish using turbulence in the swimming pool. As the water is disturbed by the fish, it also disturbs the seal’s whiskers. This helps the seal to track the fish. Such advanced functionalities are said to be enabled by the whiskers’ 3D structure.

Each Whisker had about Same Diameter as Human Hair

Lead author, Reeder collaborated with Dr. Walter Voit BS’05, MS’06, his doctoral mentor to construct an own version of a whisker. Rigid at room temperature, shape-memory polymer, which shows flexibility when heated, was used to cut out outlines of e-whiskers. The top of each whisker was patterned by a flexible strain sensor. The whiskers remained attached to the sheet and had diameter close to that of a human hair.

The material become bendable and soft after hot air was blown over by the researchers through the bottom of the cutouts. This allowed e-whiskers to rise and become three-dimensional. Changes in the strain sensor’s resistance were induced by disturbances after the assembling of e-whiskers. This enabled to precisely track the position of each e-whisker.