We describe recent advances in quantifying the three-dimensional (3D) geometry and mechanics of whisking. Careful delineation of relevant 3D reference frames reveals important geometric and mechanical distinctions between the localization problem (‘where’ is an object) and the feature extraction problem (‘what’ is an object). Head-centered and resting-whisker reference frames lend themselves to quantifying temporal and kinematic cues used for object localization. The whisking-centered reference frame lends itself to quantifying the contact mechanics likely associated with feature extraction. We offer the ‘windowed sampling’ hypothesis for active sensing: that rats can estimate an object's spatial features by integrating mechanical information across whiskers during brief (25–60 ms) windows of ‘haptic enclosure’ with the whiskers, a motion that resembles a hand grasp.
ASJC Scopus subject areas