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Arthropod Struct Dev. 2004 Jul;33(3):237-50.

Behaviour-based modelling of hexapod locomotion: linking biology and technical application.

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Abt. Biologische Kybernetik und Theoretische Biologie, Fakultät für Biologie, Universität Bielefeld, Postfach 10 01 31, D-33501 Bielefeld, Germany.


Walking in insects and most six-legged robots requires simultaneous control of up to 18 joints. Moreover, the number of joints that are mechanically coupled via body and ground varies from one moment to the next, and external conditions such as friction, compliance and slope of the substrate are often unpredictable. Thus, walking behaviour requires adaptive, context-dependent control of many degrees of freedom. As a consequence, modelling legged locomotion addresses many aspects of any motor behaviour in general. Based on results from behavioural experiments on arthropods, we describe a kinematic model of hexapod walking: the distributed artificial neural network controller walknet. Conceptually, the model addresses three basic problems in legged locomotion. (I) First, coordination of several legs requires coupling between the step cycles of adjacent legs, optimising synergistic propulsion, but ensuring stability through flexible adjustment to external disturbances. A set of behaviourally derived leg coordination rules can account for decentralised generation of different gaits, and allows stable walking of the insect model as well as of a number of legged robots. (II) Second, a wide range of different leg movements must be possible, e.g. to search for foothold, grasp for objects or groom the body surface. We present a simple neural network controller that can simulate targeted swing trajectories, obstacle avoidance reflexes and cyclic searching-movements. (III) Third, control of mechanically coupled joints of the legs in stance is achieved by exploiting the physical interactions between body, legs and substrate. A local positive displacement feedback, acting on individual leg joints, transforms passive displacement of a joint into active movement, generating synergistic assistance reflexes in all mechanically coupled joints.


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