Our Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) funded project consists in a collaboration with the laboratory of Professor Emily Standen from University of Ottawa, Canada and the laboratory of Professor Akio Ishiguro from Tohoku University, Japan. Together, we investigate locomotion control in undulatory animals and transitions between different environmental media. Its objective is to test the idea that a single control principle could explain different modes of locomotion in vertebrate and invertebrate animals for different morphologies in different environmental media. This idea and related predictions are tested by investigating Polypterus (a walking fish), salamander, and centipede locomotion in different environments ranging from water to dry ground. Our research tools combine animal locomotion studies, neuromechanical simulations, and robotic experiments.
The neuromechanical simulations are being developed to test our controllers for all three models in complex environments, including the simulation of rough terrain, water, sand and mud. This will be important for verifying that the controllers developed can work at different scales ranging from the animals to the robot experiments, and would thus allow to insure that the final single control principle that we are aiming to achieve can work on a continuum of morphologies with different shapes, masses and sizes.
Concerning simulating the physics of complex environments, new methods are being explored. In particular, Smoothed-Particles Hydrodynamics (SPH) and Discrete Elements Methods (DEM) have been selected as exciting potential candidates to simulate water and sand respectively. Moreover, the combination of these two methods could potentially allow to also simulate muddy environments.