Cats, dogs, and many other animals have whiskers arranged on their face that enable them to “feel” their environment without directly touching what they’re near. But, what if humans had this ability as well? Research assistant Nicholas Gonyea (AKA “metaterra”) decided to find out with an array of eight flexible protusions. These new electronic whiskers protrude from a pair of base assemblies next to a wearer’s cheeks, attached to a highly modified construction-style helmet that houses the system.
In Gonyea’s setup, each sensor feeds data to its own SparkFun Pro Mini board, which converts the analog signal from the sensor into vibrations on a miniature vibrating disk motor situated on the user’s forehead. Some work had to be done to pick out a device flexible and resilient enough to mimic real whiskers, but Gonyea eventually settled on this sensor from Flexpoint which varies its resistance when bent.
The idea behind this invention is that over time the user would learn to perceive these electronic whisker signals as an extra sense. While the system looks outrageous in its current form, it could be used to help study how pets and other animals perceive the world. Perhaps with some modification, it could also be employed to augment senses, especially for those with impaired vision.