This site has been archived on

Inspired by nature

As you fasten the Velcro strap on your Adidas trainers, remember to thank nature for this technology – nature and Georges de Mestral who invented this hook-and-loop fastener after studying the way burrs stick to your socks. It’s no surprise, then, that science and technology take inspiration from ‘natural’ phenomena like spiders’ webs, insect swarms, or rats’ whiskers. Mother nature is the teacher and the lessons include better networking solutions, highly sensitive sensors, and insights into how brains work as the basis for making efficient, even unbreakable, computers, and for new ways to command smart machines to do what we want. And all this without a computer keyboard in sight – finally!

Super-sensitive devices a whisker away

Scientists are breaking new ground as they marry the fields of biology and ICT into fascinating nature-inspired applications. In this case, the EU-funded Biotact project is taking its inspiration from two furry animals – the Norwegian rat and the Etruscan shrew.

Both these species are ‘tactile specialists’, sweeping their facial whiskers around to explore their environments. The project partners are probing the whisking action of these animals and are building two prototype devices to demonstrate their work.

The Biotact sensor will be an active array of hundreds of whisker-like hairs that possess tactile sensing functions beyond any existing gadgets. The second device will be a whiskered robot combining its tactile sensors with artificial intelligence and information processing to seek out, identify, track and capture fast-moving target objects.