A team of scientists at Purdue University have built sensors inspired by spiders, birds, bats, and more, whose actual spidey senses are nerve endings linked to special neurons called mechanosensors, which come in form of hair, feathers, or cilia and only detect and process information essential to an animal’s survival.
For instance, a spider’s hairy mechanosensors are on its legs. When the spider’s web vibrates at a frequency linked with prey or a mate, the nerve endings detect it and generate a reflex in the spider than then acts real quick. The mechanosensors don’t detect lower frequencies such as that of dust on web, since it’s unimportant to the spider’s survival, explained Science Daily.
The idea is to integrate similar sensors straight into the shell of an autonomous machine such as an airplane wing or the body of car. The team demonstrated that engineered mechanosensors inspired by spider’s hair could be customized to detect predetermined forces. In reality, these forces would be associated with a certain object than an autonomous machine needs to avoid.
The developed sensors not only just sense and filter at a very fast rate, but they also compute without needing a power supply. “There’s no distinction between hardware and software in nature; it’s all interconnected,” said scientist Andres Arrieta. “A sensor is meant to interpret data, as well as collect and filter it.”
These artificial mechanosensors are able to sense, filter and compute very quickly because they are stiff. The sensor material is designed to rapidly change shape when activated by an external force, which makes conductive particles within the material move closer to each other. This allows electricity to slow through the sensor and carry a signal that informs how the autonomous system should respond.
The researchers said that these sensors can be manufactures in variety of sizes. Also, integration of these sensors in autonomous machines like drones and self-driving vehicles can lead them to better detect and avoid objects, navigate in dangerous environments and also prevent accidents caused by human error.