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Exploring the neuromuscular control of locomotion using a muscle-powered robotic limb


   The Royal Veterinary College

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  Dr C Richards  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

For decades, the neural control of vertebrate limbs has been heavily explored by neuroscientists and engineers. Accordingly there exist many mathematical motor control models that account for neural properties, but neglect (or oversimplify) the interplay between neural control and muscle tissue mechanics. Similarly, ‘bio-robotic’ models based on animals can measure external forces and motions, but offer no insight into internal muscular forces [1]. Consequently, it remains largely a mystery how the central nervous system controls the motions of multiple joints in a limb to achieve efficient and stable locomotion. Furthermore, there exists a dilemma in evolutionary biomechanics: we do not understand whether an animal’s impressive speed, stability or efficiency is due to their limb architecture or to the intrinsic properties of the muscle-tendon tissues (or some unknown combination). Using running birds as a model [2, 3], the aims of this project are a) to elucidate how neuromuscular control is achieved among the leg joints, and b) to decouple tissue vs. structural influences on locomotor performance. Using recently developed ‘musculo-robotics’ techniques [4, 5], these aims will be achieved in three broad objectives: 1) Build a muscle-actuated quail robot to mimic both biologically-realistic internal and external forces. 2) Experimentally manipulate the muscle tissue properties of this robot to address how muscle speed, strength and elasticity may enable locomotor stability capacity beyond what conventional theory or robotics predict. 3) Experimentally manipulate the musculo-skeletal anatomy of the limb (architecture) to address the relative importance of tissue vs. structural properties in determining how effectively a limb moves.

Funding Notes

This is a three year fully funded studentship. It is open to Home/EU applicants only. International students are welcome to apply but must be able to pay the difference between UK/EU and international tuition fees.

This is a competition studentship.

References



[1] Ijspeert, Auke J. "Biorobotics: Using robots to emulate and investigate agile locomotion." Science 346.6206 (2014): 196-203.

[2] Daley, Monica A., and Andrew A. Biewener. "Leg muscles that mediate stability: mechanics and control of two distal extensor muscles during obstacle negotiation in the guinea fowl." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 366.1570 (2011): 1580-1591.

[3] Aleksandra V. Birn-Jeffery, Christian M. Hubicki, Yvonne Blum, Daniel Renjewski, Jonathan W. Hurst and Monica A. Daley “Don't break a leg: running birds from quail to ostrich prioritise leg safety and economy on uneven terrain J Exp Biol (2014) 217:3786-3796. doi:10.1242/jeb.102640


[4] Richards, Christopher T. "Building a robotic link between muscle dynamics and hydrodynamics." The Journal of experimental biology 214.14 (2011): 2381-2389.


[5] Richards, Christopher T., and Christofer J. Clemente. "A bio-robotic platform for integrating internal and external mechanics during muscle-powered swimming." Bioinspiration & biomimetics 7.1 (2012): 016010.


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