ATL@S – The Active Touch Laboratory at Sheffield

The Active Touch Laboratory uses methods in animal behaviour, neuroethology, human psychophysics, computational modelling and robotics to investigate tactile sensing in animals, people and intelligent machines. Current research is primarily focused on understanding, and building robot analogs of, the mammalian vibrissal (whisker) system. A key feature of this system is the active control of the positioning and movement of the sensors. We therefore use high-speed videography to study the head and whisker movement strategies that animals such as rats and mice use when exploring environments with their vibrissae. Our computational neuroscience research addresses the neural bases of tactile sensory processing and motor control in the mammalian brain. Robotic modelling work includes investigation of algorithms for motor pattern generation and tactile pattern classfication. Research on human psychophysics has begun examining the use of the long cane by people with visual impairments. The laboratory is currently funded by the European Union Framework 7 BIOTACT project.

The Active Touch Laboratory is a collaboration between the Department's Adaptive Behaviour and Neural Algorithms research groups. We also work closely with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

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Vacancies: At the current time there are NO RESEARCH POSITIONS AVAILABLE. PhD opportunities are available for SELF-FUNDED students only.


ATL@S Publications (updated January 2010)

In Press and 2010

Wilson, S. P., Law, J. S., 1, Mitchinson, B., Prescott, T. J., Bednar, J. A. (In press). Modeling the emergence of whisker direction maps in rat barrel cortex. PLoS ONE.

Prescott, T. J., Mitchinson, B., And Grant, R. (In press). Vibrissal function and behavior. Scholarpedia.

Mitchinson, B., Chan, T., Humphries, M., Chambers, J., Fox, C. And Prescott, T. J. (2010). BRAHMS: Novel middleware for integrated systems computation. Advanced Engineering Informatics, 24(1):49-61.


Prescott, T. J., Pearson, M., Mitchinson, B., Sullivan, J. C. W., Pipe, A. G. (2009). Whisking with robots: From rat vibrissae to biomimetic technology for active touch. IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine, 16(3), 42-50.

Fox, C. W., Mitchinson, B., Pearson, M. J., Pipe, A. G., Prescott, T. J. (2009). Behavioral dependency of texture classification in a whiskered mobile robot. Autonomous Robots, 26(4), 223-239.

Fox C, Humphries M, Mitchinson B, Kiss T, Somogyvari Z And Prescott T. J. (2009) Technical integration of hippocampus, basal ganglia and physical models for spatial navigation. Frontiers of Neuroinformatics. 3(6).

Grant, R. A., Mitchinson, B., Fox, C., Prescott, T. J. (2009). Active touch sensing in the rat: Anticipatory and regulatory control of whisker movements during surface exploration. Journal of Neurophysiology, 101. 862-874.


Mitchinson, B., Arabzadeh, E., Diamond, M. E., Prescott, T. J. (2008). Spike-timing in primary sensory neurons: a model of somatosensory transduction in the rat. Biological Cybernetics, 98(3), 185-193.

Mitchinson, B., Martin, C. J., Grant, R. A., Prescott, T. J. (2007), Feedback control in active sensing: rat exploratory whisking is modulated by environmental contact, Royal Society Proceedings B, 274(1613).

Pearson, M. J., Mitchinson, B., Pipe, A. G., Melhuish, C., and Prescott, T. J. (2007). Whiskerbot: A robotic active touch system modelled on the rat whisker sensory system. Adaptive Behavior, 15: 223-240.

Mitchinson, B. Pearson, M., Melhuish, C., and Prescott, T.J. (2006), A model of sensorimotor co-ordination in the rat whisker system, From Animals to Animats 9: Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Simulation of Adaptive Behaviour, (Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence, 4095). Springer-Verlag: Berlin, 77-88.

Pearson, M. J., Gilhespy, I., Melhuish, C., Mitchinson, B., Nibouche, M., Pipe, A. G., Prescott, T. J. (2005) A Biomimetic Haptic Sensor. Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems, 2, 335-343.

Mitchinson, B., Gurney, K., Redgrave, P., Melhuish, C., Pipe, T., Pearson, M., Gilhespy, I., and Prescott, T. J. (2004). Empirically inspired electro-mechanical model of the rat mystacial follicle-sinus-complex. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B, 271, 2509-16.