Legged animals routinely negotiate rough, unpredictable terrain with agility and stability that outmatches any human-built machine. Yet, we know surprisingly little about how animals accomplish this. Current knowledge is largely limited to studies of steady movement. These studies have revealed fundamental mechanisms used by terrestrial animals for steady locomotion. However, it is unclear whether these models provide an appropriate framework for the neuromuscular and mechanical strategies used to achieve dynamic stability over rough terrain. Perturbation experiments shed light on this issue, revealing the interplay between mechanics and neuromuscular control. We measured limb mechanics of helmeted guinea fowl (Numida meleagris) running over an unexpected drop in terrain, comparing their response to predictions of the mass-spring running model. Adjustment of limb contact angle explains 80% of the variation in stance-phase limb loading following the perturbation. Surprisingly, although limb stiffness varies dramatically, it does not influence the response. This result agrees with a mass-spring model, although it differs from previous findings on humans running over surfaces of varying compliance. However, guinea fowl sometimes deviate from mass-spring dynamics through posture-dependent work performance of the limb, leading to substantial energy absorption following the perturbation. This posture-dependent actuation allows the animal to absorb energy and maintain desired velocity on a sudden substrate drop. Thus, posture-dependent work performance of the limb provides inherent velocity control over rough terrain. These findings highlight how simple mechanical models extend to unsteady conditions, providing fundamental insights into neuromuscular control of movement and the design of dynamically stable legged robots and prosthetic devices.
Daley, Monica ABiewener, Andrew AengAR047679/AR/NIAMS NIH HHS/Research Support, N.I.H., ExtramuralResearch Support, Non-U.S. Gov't2006/10/13 09:00Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Oct 17;103(42):15681-6. Epub 2006 Oct 10.