288 pp. per issue
6 x 9, illustrated
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Neural Computation

May 2006, Vol. 18, No. 5, Pages 1156-1196
(doi: 10.1162/neco.2006.18.5.1156)
© 2006 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
A Reflexive Neural Network for Dynamic Biped Walking Control
Article PDF (2.07 MB)

Biped walking remains a difficult problem, and robot models can greatly facilitate our understanding of the underlying biomechanical principles as well as their neuronal control. The goal of this study is to specifically demonstrate that stable biped walking can be achieved by combining the physical properties of the walking robot with a small, reflex-based neuronal network governed mainly by local sensor signals. Building on earlier work (Taga, 1995; Cruse, Kindermann, Schumm, Dean, & Schmitz, 1998), this study shows that human-like gaits emerge without specific position or trajectory control and that the walker is able to compensate small disturbances through its own dynamical properties. The reflexive controller used here has the following characteristics, which are different from earlier approaches: (1) Control is mainly local. Hence, it uses only two signals (anterior extreme angle and ground contact), which operate at the interjoint level. All other signals operate only at single joints. (2) Neither position control nor trajectory tracking control is used. Instead, the approximate nature of the local reflexes on each joint allows the robot mechanics itself (e.g., its passive dynamics) to contribute substantially to the overall gait trajectory computation. (3) The motor control scheme used in the local reflexes of our robot is more straightforward and has more biological plausibility than that of other robots, because the outputs of the motor neurons in our reflexive controller are directly driving the motors of the joints rather than working as references for position or velocity control. As a consequence, the neural controller and the robot mechanics are closely coupled as a neuromechanical system, and this study emphasizes that dynamically stable biped walking gaits emerge from the coupling between neural computation and physical computation. This is demonstrated by different walking experiments using a real robot as well as by a Poincaré map analysis applied on a model of the robot in order to assess its stability.