Active touch sensing Introduction

TJ Prescott, ME Diamond, Alan Wing

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorial

121 Citations (Scopus)


Active sensing systems are purposive and information-seeking sensory systems. Active sensing usually entails sensor movement, but more fundamentally, it involves control of the sensor apparatus, in whatever manner best suits the task, so as to maximize information gain. In animals, active sensing is perhaps most evident in the modality of touch. In this theme issue, we look at active touch across a broad range of species from insects, terrestrial and marine mammals, through to humans. In addition to analysing natural touch, we also consider how engineering is beginning to exploit physical analogues of these biological systems so as to endow robots with rich tactile sensing capabilities. The different contributions show not only the varieties of active touch-antennae, whiskers and fingertips-but also their commonalities. They explore how active touch sensing has evolved in different animal lineages, how it serves to provide rapid and reliable cues for controlling ongoing behaviour, and even how it can disintegrate when our brains begin to fail. They demonstrate that research on active touch offers a means both to understand this essential and primary sensory modality, and to investigate how animals, including man, combine movement with sensing so as to make sense of, and act effectively in, the world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2989-2995
Number of pages7
JournalRoyal Society of London. Philosophical Transactions B. Biological Sciences
Issue number1581
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2011


  • vibrissae
  • haptics
  • biomimetic robotics
  • tactile sensing
  • artificial touch
  • active sensing


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