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Lessons from cockroaches could inform robotics
Date:2/22/2013

on about the roaches' gait, the researchers utilized a technique Revzen developed several years ago called kinematic phase analysis. It involves using a high-speed camera to constantly measure the position of each of the insects' six feet as well as the ends of its body. A computer program then merges the continuous data from all these points into an accurate estimate of where the roach is in its gait cycle at all times. The approach gives scientists a more detailed picture than just measuring the timing of footfallsa common metric used today to study gait.

In kinematic phase analysis, the signals are converted into a wave graph that illustrates the insect's movement pattern. The pattern only changes when the nervous system kicks in. How do the researchers know this? In a separate but similar experiment, they implanted electrodes into the legs of seven cockroaches to measure nerve signals.

The nervous-system delay the researchers observed is substantially longer than scientists expected, Revzen said. And it runs contrary to assumptions in the robotics community, where computers stand in for brains and the machines' movements are often guided by continuous feedback to that computer from sensors on the robots' feet.

Revzen said the new findings might imply that the biological brain, at least in cockroaches, adjusts the gait only at whole-step intervals rather than at any point in a step. Periodic, rather than continuous, feedback systems might lead to more stable (not to mention energy-efficient) walking robotswhether they travel on two feet or six.

Robot makers often look to nature for inspiration. As animals move through the world, they have to respond to unexpected disturbances like rocky, uneven ground or damaged limbs. Revzen and his team believe that patterns in how they move as they adjust could give away how their machinery and neurology work together.

"The fundamental question is, 'What can you do with a mechani
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Contact: Nicole Casal Moore
ncmoore@umich.edu
734-647-7087
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert

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