A group of researchers from University of Arizona in the US have come up with a robotic set of legs to mimic the act of walking. They’re claiming their robotic innovation is the first to fully model walking in a biologically accurate manner.
Researchers from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at University of Arizona are behind the robotic legs. To create the legs, they studied the neural musculoskeletal architecture and sensory feedback pathways in humans, before simplifying them and weaving them into the robot to make it mirror the act of walking.
Their findings were presented in the Journal of Neural Engineering last week.
The researchers believe that their robotic creation could help bolster theories of how babies learn to walk, as well as helping to understand how people with spinal cord injuries can recover the ability to walk.
They said a key component of the human walking system is the central pattern generator (CPG), a neural network in the lumbar region of the spinal cord that generates rhythmic muscle signals. The CPG produces and then controls these signals by gathering information from different parts of the body that are responding to the environment. This is what allows people to walk without needing to think about it, according to scientists.
"Interestingly, we were able to produce a walking gait, without balance, which mimicked human walking with only a simple half-centre controlling the hips and a set of reflex responses controlling the lower limb," said Dr Theresa Klein, one of the co-authors of the study.
The researchers have also put forward the hypothesis that babies start off with a simple half-centre, similar to the one developed in this robot, and over time they ‘learn’ a network for a more complex walking pattern.
They believe this could explain why babies can exhibit a simple walking pattern when placed on a treadmill even before they have learnt to walk, because a simple half-centre is already in place.
"This underlying network may also form the core of the CPG and may explain how people with spinal cord injuries can regain walking ability if properly stimulated in the months after the injury," added Klein.
Check out this short video snippet of the robotic legs in motion.