Here's the first of several posts on advances in robotics. Let's start with a robotic rat.
A team of researchers at the Bristol Robotics Lab, in association with Professor Tony Prescott of the University of Sheffield, have developed ScratchBot, a robotic "rat". This tactile sensing device is based on the processes a rat uses when its whiskers sense its environment, and on computer modeling of the rat brain This technology would allow robots to be used in areas where vision is poor, such in smoke filled areas or under the sea. ScratchBot is part of a European project to develop artificial intelligence systems modeled on biologic ones.
Rat whiskers serve as an excellent model for robotic sensing. They are able to accurately locate and determine the size, shape and texture of an object. The hope is that damaged robotic whiskers can be easily and cheaply replaced, thereby lowering maintenance costs for a highly complex system.
A video of ScratchBot:
Here are two articles on the ScratchBot project.
(this includes the embedded video)
A gesturing robot from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory: