Rat Whiskers: More Than Meets the Eye

Imagine that you are sitting in a fine restaurant eating a delicious meal and suddenly a rat pokes its little whiskered, rodent nose out from under a nearby table—not the scenario a restaurant owner wants to occur. Of course, it might never dawn on the casual rat observer that those swift-moving little whiskers happen to be amazing radars that allow the rat to navigate in areas where visibility is extremely low. Due to the remarkable characteristics of rat whiskers, a team of robotics researchers recently designed and built a robotic “rat,” complete with functioning “whiskers” (“Researchers Unveil…,” 2009).

It turns out that the common rat has been given some uncommonly impressive abilities. The ScienceDaily article describing the new robot included a glowing section on rat whiskers.

“Rats are especially effective at exploring their environments using their whiskers. They are able to accurately determine position, shape and texture of objects using precise rhythmic sweeping movements of their whiskers, make rapid decisions about objects, and then use the information to build environmental maps” (2009).

Utilizing the biological “technology” behind rat whiskers, the new robot, named SCRATCHbot, is full of potential applications. Researchers involved in the project suggest that vision and eyesight have been studied more often than other sensory, information-gathering mechanisms. They hope that the technology behind SCRATCHbot will help robots navigate “underground, under the sea, on in extremely dusty conditions, where vision is often seriously compromised” (2009). Professor Tony Prescott, from the University of Sheffield, stated: “By developing these biomimetic robots, we are not just designing novel touch-sensing devices, but also making a real contribution to understanding the biology of tactile sensing” (2009).

Who would have thought that every restaurant owner’s nightmare would be a gem whose secrets and tactile sensing have helped to make “a real contribution” to human understanding? Of course, those who posit an intelligent Designer for the Universe and all its functional complexity have no problem understanding and even predicting such biomimetic success. In fact, the idea of a supernatural Designer would lead researchers to look to the natural world for such inspiration. Unfortunately, the Designer rarely gets the credit He is due. Even though the evolution model, with its chaotic recipe of time and chance, fails miserably to offer an adequate explanation for something as “simple” as rat whiskers, many still cling to it in spite of its woeful inadequacies. When such blind acceptance of a disproven theory continues to rule the day, one can certainly “smell a rat” in this regrettable situation.



“Researchers Unveil Whiskered Robot Rat” (2009), ScienceDaily, [On-line], URL:


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