Replicating the Insect Antennae

Artificial sensory systems are often limited in structure and functionality. Recently, we report a neuromorphic antennal sensory system that achieves spatiotemporal perception of vibrotactile and magnetic stimuli, showcasing biomimetic perceptual intelligence.
Replicating the Insect Antennae
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Insect antennae excel in the nuanced detection of vibrations and deflections, as well as the non-contact perception of magnetic or chemical stimuli, capabilities not found in mammalian skin. These miniature organs, densely innervated with sensory receptors and neurons, empower insects to execute complex tasks such as foraging, object identification, and navigation. However, conventional artificial sensory systems mostly rely on mimicking the skin and hair in mammals, imposing limits on their structural and functional diversity. The development of artificial sensory systems inspired by insect antennae holds the promise to break the design constraints of sensor electronics, contributing to the development of sensing intelligence and perceptual augmentation.

By collaborating with a research team at Hokkaido University in Japan, we have developed a neuromorphic antennal sensory system (Figure 1) that emulates the intricate perceptual abilities of ant antennae. The results were recently published as editor’s highlight in Nature Communications (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-024-46393-7).

Figure 1. Design of the neuromorphic antennal sensory system

Inspired by ant antennae, this reported system consists of electronic antennae sensors, a spike-encoding circuit, and artificial synaptic transistors (Figure 2). The sensors with flexible, three-dimensional structures allow the high-sensitivity detection of both tactile and magnetic stimuli. The synaptic devices adsorbed with solution-processable MoS2 nanoflakes enable parallel, efficient processing of spike-encoded sensory information, akin to sensory neurons. Overall, this system achieves hardware-level spatiotemporal perception of tactile contact, surface patterns, and magnetic fields. As a proof-of-concept, this system was further integrated into mobile robot and interactive device, accomplishing vibrotactile-perception tasks including profile and texture classifications with over 90% accuracy, surpassing human performance in tactile recognition. Furthermore, magneto-perception tasks including magnetic navigation and touchless interaction were successfully completed, showcasing the system’s sensory capabilities beyond those of human.

Figure 2. Design of the electronic-antennae sensor and the the artificial synaptic device

By emulating the structural, functional, and neuronal characteristics of ant antennae, the neuromorphic antennal sensory system represents a milestone in neuromorphic perception with biomimetic intelligence. In the future, we plan to integrate flexible actuators with the system to enable antennal movement and active tactile exploration.

The implications of this research extend far beyond the laboratory. With its insecto-morphic characteristics and hardware-level perceptual intelligence, the neuromorphic antennal sensory system can replicate the sensory abilities of living insects. Incorporating this system into sensory robots and wearable devices could revolutionize the way we perceive and interact with our surrounding environment, opening new opportunities to realize augmented perception beyond human senses.

References:

  1. Jiang, C., Xu, H., Yang, L. et al. Neuromorphic antennal sensory system. Nat Commun 15, 2109 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-024-46393-7
  2. Jiang, C., Liu, J., Ni, Y. et al. Mammalian-brain-inspired neuromorphic motion-cognition nerve achieves cross-modal perceptual enhancement. Nat Commun 14, 1344 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-36935-w

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