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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.

Meet the lab

Principal Investigators

Hannes Saal Dr Hannes Saal (Director)

I use human psychophysics, computational modeling, and applied machine learning in order to elucidate the fundamental computations allowing us to make sense of our environment through touch.

Stuart Wilson Dr Stuart Wilson

My research explores the interaction between evolution and development in the context of mammalian somatosensory systems. In particular, I am interested in how self-organisation can interact with natural selection in the context of i) self-organisation of topological maps in rodent barrel cortex, ii) self-organising thermoregulatory huddling behaviours in rodent litters.

Tony PrescottProf Tony Prescott

I investigate active touch sensing in animals, humans and robots, focusing on (i) the evolution of the mammalian somatosensory system, (ii) multisensory perception and memory, (iii) haptic interaction and emotional touch in biomimetic robots, and (iv) haptic interfaces for sensory augmentation and telepresence.

Research Associates

Rodrigo Kazu Rodrigo Siqueira Kazu 

I'm a research associate with experience in comparative neuroanatomy, cell culturing, multichannel electrophysiology and immunocytochemistry. Utilising my programming and data analysis/data modelling skills I'm working on the modelling of the responses of afferent fibres of the foot sole. In addition, I'm also a guest lecturer for the computational neuroscience module.

Ben Mitchinson Dr Ben Mitchinson  

My research on active touch sensing focuses on its role in generating functional spatial percepts that drive local motion planning through spatial attention and global motion planning through mapping and navigation systems. I investigate these themes through computational modelling and through the construction of biomimetic robots.


Laura Edmondson Laura R Edmondson  (PhD student)

I am a PhD student supervised by Hannes Saal & Stuart Wilson. My research focuses on modelling somatosensory cortex using dimensionality reduction techniques and self-organising models. I am interested in the mechanisms which determine the topography and magnification of the hand seen in the primary somatosensory cortex of both humans and non-human primates.

Giulia CornianiGiulia Corniani (PhD student)

I am a PhD student supervised by Hannes Saal. I am part of the NeuTouch project, included in the EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. My research focuses on the spiking models of realistic human tactile interactions. I am interested in the development of a computational method that translates sensor input into spiking output to deliver realistic and real-time tactile feedback for neuroprosthetics and robotics.

Luke ClelandLuke Cleland (CCN MSc student)

I am currently a student on the Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience Masters. My research focuses on proprioception and relates to the representation of the hand in the somatotosensory cortex. I investigate how the representation in the brain may change depending on the use of the hand.

Zimeng Wan Zimeng Wan (CCN MSc student)

I am a MSc Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience student. My research focuses on markerless tracking of hand movement, especially grasping and manipulation. I investigate the hand kinematic mechanism through developing and testing computational methods based on deep learning techniques.

JonathanJonathan Jones (CCN MSc student)

I am a Masters student in Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience. My research concerns investigating how deep convolutional neural networks transform the geometric and statistical structure of internal neural representations of input datasets as a simple model for sensory processing. These models are particularly relevant to studying sensory representations, as representations in late layers of deep convolutional networks trained for categorisation have been shown to exhibit a high degree of similarity with human fMRI data from IT cortex.

Nick GarsideNicholas Garside (CCN MSc student)

My MSc research project explores the theory behind tactile distance biases and aftereffects, which occur when the perceived tactile distance is greater than the actual distance. I will attempt to explain how these biases can arise from the cortical receptive field structure, through modelling the neural encoding and decoding of touch stimuli.

Lab Alumni

MSc students

2018-19 Nathan Darnley (CCN MSc)
2018-19 Muneerah Patel (CCN MSc)
2018-19 Luke Moffatt (CCN MSc)

Research Associates

Kendra Arkley
Emily Collins








News and resources

Huddled mice could change the way we think about evolution        

The Conversation, 16th November, 2016

Huddling rats behave as a 'super-organism'                                                                     

ScienceDaily, 3rd September 2015

Me, myself and iCub: Meet the robot with a self                                               

New Scientist, Issue 3013, 18th March 2015

How rats can see in the dark                                                     

Daily Mail, 8th July 2014

Rats alter the way they use whiskers to help navigation   

BBC Nature News, 7th July 2014

Seals judge size using their whiskers                     

BBC Nature News, 17th February 2013

Touch sensing in harbor seals                                                      

Mammal News, Spring 2012, pp. 20-21

Robo rat- sensory processing in robotics

The Scientist, 1st April 2012

Dormice whiskers aid tree-climbing   

BBC Nature News, 7th July 2014

Robotics scientists' new 'Shrewbot' uses whiskers to navigate                      

The Huffington Post, 23rd January 2012