Swimming robot gives fresh insight into locomotion and neuroscience


Scientists on the Biorobotics Laboratory (BioRob) in EPFL’s Faculty of Engineering are growing modern robots with the intention to research locomotion in animals and, finally, acquire a greater understanding of the neuroscience behind the technology of motion. One such robotic is AgnathaX, a swimming robotic employed in a world research with researchers from EPFL in addition to Tohoku College in Japan, Institut Mines-Télécom Atlantique in Nantes, France, and Université de Sherbrooke in Canada. The research has simply been revealed in Science Robotics.

A protracted, undulating swimming robotic

“Our purpose with this robotic was to look at how the nervous system processes sensory data in order to provide a given form of motion,” says Prof. Auke Ijspeert, the top of BioRob and a member of the Rescue Robotics Grand Problem at NCCR Robotics. “This mechanism is difficult to check in dwelling organisms as a result of the completely different parts of the central and peripheral nervous techniques* are extremely interconnected inside the spinal wire. That makes it onerous to grasp their dynamics and the affect they’ve on one another.”

AgnathaX is a protracted, undulating swimming robotic designed to imitate a lamprey, which is a primitive eel-like fish. It comprises a sequence of motors that actuate the robotic’s ten segments, which replicate the muscle tissues alongside a lamprey’s physique. The robotic additionally has drive sensors distributed laterally alongside its segments that work just like the pressure-sensitive cells on a lamprey’s pores and skin and detect the drive of the water in opposition to the animal.

The analysis staff ran mathematical fashions with their robotic to simulate the completely different parts of the nervous system and higher perceive its intricate dynamics. “We had AgnathaX swim in a pool outfitted with a movement monitoring system in order that we may measure the robotic’s actions,” says Laura Paez, a PhD scholar at BioRob. “Because it swam, we selectively activated and deactivated the central and peripheral inputs and outputs of the nervous system at every phase, in order that we may take a look at our hypotheses concerning the neuroscience concerned.”

Two techniques working in tandem

The scientists discovered that each the central and peripheral nervous techniques contribute to the technology of sturdy locomotion. The advantage of having the 2 techniques work in tandem is that it supplies elevated resilience in opposition to neural disruptions, akin to failures within the communication between physique segments or muted sensing mechanisms. “In different phrases, by drawing on a mix of central and peripheral parts, the robotic may resist a bigger variety of neural disruptions and maintain swimming at excessive speeds, versus robots with just one form of part,” says Kamilo Melo, a co-author of the research. “We additionally discovered that the drive sensors within the pores and skin of the robotic, together with the bodily interactions of the robotic’s physique and the water, present helpful alerts for producing and synchronizing the rhythmic muscle exercise essential for locomotion.” In consequence, when the scientists minimize communication between the completely different segments of the robotic to simulate a spinal wire lesion, the alerts from the stress sensors measuring the stress of the water pushing in opposition to the robotic’s physique had been sufficient to take care of its undulating movement.

These findings can be utilized to design simpler swimming robots for search and rescue missions and environmental monitoring. As an example, the controllers and drive sensors developed by the scientists may also help such robots navigate by circulate perturbations and higher stand up to injury to their technical parts. The research additionally has ramifications within the subject of neuroscience. It confirms that peripheral mechanisms present an vital perform which is presumably being overshadowed by the well-known central mechanisms. “These peripheral mechanisms may play an vital function within the restoration of motor perform after spinal wire harm, as a result of, in precept, no connections between completely different elements of the spinal wire are wanted to take care of a touring wave alongside the physique,” says Robin Thandiackal, a co-author of the research. “That would clarify why some vertebrates are in a position to retain their locomotor capabilities after a spinal wire lesion.”

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