A Modular Artificial Neural Net for Controlling a Six-Legged Walking System

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Biological Cybernetics


A system that controls the leg movement of an animal or a robot walking over irregular ground has to ensure stable support for the body and at the same time propel it forward. To do so, it has to react adaptively to unpredictable features of the environment. As part of our study of the underlying mechanisms, we present here a model for the control of the leg movement of a 6-legged walking system. The model is based on biological data obtained from the stick insect. It represents a combined treatment of realistic kinematics and biologically motivated, adaptive gait generation. The model extends a previous algorithmic model by substituting simple networks of artificial neurons for the algorithms previously used to control leg state and interleg coordination. Each system controlling an individual leg consists of three subnets. A hierarchically superior net contains two sensory and two 'premotor' units; it rhythmically suppresses the out-put of one or the other of the two subordinate nets. These are continuously active. They might be called the 'swing module' and the 'stance module' because they are responsible for controlling the swing (return stroke) and the stance (power stroke) movements, respectively. The swing module consists of three motor units and seven sensory units. It can produce appropriate return stroke movements for a broad range of initial and final positions, can cope with mechanical disturbances of the leg movement, and is able to react to an obstacle which hinders the normal performance of the swing movement. The complete model is able to walk at different speeds over irregular surfaces. The control system rapidly reestablishes a stable gait when the movement of the legs is disturbed. © 1995 Springer-Verlag.