Project Title3D Surface Mapping, Compliance Mapping, Spatial Registration with an Array of Whisker Sensors
Track Code2011-150
Short Description

A novel sensor for 3D-surface mapping

#medicaldevice #diagnosticsandmeasurements #sensor #force


Northwestern researchers have developed a novel sensor that rapidly detects 3D topology of a surface with >95% accuracy and also measures an object’s resistance to compression called a compliance map. This bio-inspired technology is uniquely based on the mechanics of rodent whiskers where the information of whisker movement is directly communicated to the nerves at the base of the whisker.  Northwestern’s whisker sensors have the capability of capturing the continuous contour of an object by gathering data on the force and torque of the whisker movement.  Unlike other devices, these whiskers contain sensors at the whisker base, relying on two distinct classes of methods, tapping and sweeping, to rapidly gather information.   The sensor has minimal sensing requirements and no constraints on the type of object contact or the movement pattern of the whisker.  Sweeping methods usually lead to a continuous contour of the object being sampled, allowing shape information to be gathered much more rapidly.  Furthermore, accuracy of mappings can be maximized using a data-driven machine learning approach.  By tuning neural network parameters with evolutionary algorithm, these whiskers can be programmed to minimize the error between extracted information and true object surface.  The synthetic whiskers are made of superelastic Nitinol material (3cm length, 0.5mm diameter at the base), though they may be miniaturized for additional applications.  This technology has applications in a diverse set of fields including mapping underground infrastructure to identify internal defects or structure in conduits for gas, oil or water and geological mapping and in mineral mining industry.  If miniaturized, the sensor could also find applications in the medical field, for example, robotically-assisted detection of clots in blood vessels or polyps in the colon.

TagsMEDICAL DEVICE: diagnostics and measurements, SENSOR: force
Posted DateFeb 14, 2013 9:56 AM


Mitra Hartmann*

Joseph Solomon


  • Testing pipes and conduits for corrosion and micropits
  • Medical Surgery: 3D spatial and compliance (resistance to compression) mapping
  • Geological and planetary mapping (e.g. Mars)
  • Mineral mining industry


  • Detection of object stiffness
  • No need for camera
  • No constraints on the type of object contact
  • No restriction on the movement pattern of the whisker


IP Status

Issued patents US 7,774,951; 8,109,007; 8,504,500; 9,092,737 

Contact Information

Arjan Quist, PhD

Invention Manager

(p) 847.467.0305