I'm working full-time for this project, which deals with morphology and morphosis in animals and robots. Current legged robots are mostly energy-inefficient, and vulnerable: they might cease to function due to a failure of a small component or a single actuator. Animals, in contrast, can be very efficient, and manage to deal with even large perturbations in morphology or dynamical function. My interest is to analyse animal (primate and non-primate) locomotion under a variety of conditions and asses movement coordination and dynamics. This information will serve to help more efficient and robust legged robots.
This project is funded by the EU (7th Framework programme) and the team consists of researchers from the Artificial Intelligence Lab (Zürich, Switzerland), the Biologically Inspired Robots Group (Lausanne, Switzerland), the Locomotion Laboratory (Jena, Germany), Modular Robots Research Lab (Odense, Denmark), Locomotion Research at Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada) and the Functional Morphology Lab (Antwerp, Belgium).
The human foot was anatomically modern long before footwear was invented, and is adapted to barefoot walking on natural substrates. Understanding the biomechanics of habitually barefoot walkers can provide novel insights both for anthropologist and for applied scientists, yet very few data are available. To start assessing morphological and functional effects of the habitual use of footwear, we are stydying habitually barefoot walkers from India and focus on foot metrics and on the analysis of plantar pressure data.
Habitually shod Indians differ significantly from their habitually barefoot peers. Barefoot walkers had wider feet and more equally distributed peak pressures. Western subjects differed strongly from both Indian populations (and most from barefoot Indians), by having relatively short and, especially, slender feet, with more focal and higher peak pressures at the heel, metatarsals and hallux. Current data suggests that footwear that fails to respect natural foot shape and function will ultimately alter the morphology and the biomechanical behaviour of the foot.
Collaborators: Todd Pataky (ShinShu University, Japan), Dirk De Clercq (Ghent University, Belgium), Jain Insititute of Vascular Sciences (Bangalore, India).
Fossilised footprints contain information about the dynamics of gait, but their interpretation is difficult, as they are the combined result of foot anatomy, gait dynamics and substrate properties. We explore how footprints are generated in modern humans, by studying kinematics and plantar pressures of subjects walking on a solid surface and in a layer of sand. Walking in sand involves greater toe clearances and a higher knee yield during stance. Maximal pressure was the most influential factor for footprint depth under the heel. For other foot zones, a combination of factors correlates with imprint depth, with pressure impulse (the pressure-time integral) gaining importance distally, at the metatarsal heads and the hallux. Footprint topology cannot be related to a single variable, but different zones of the footprint reflect different aspects of the kinesiology of walking. Therefore, much more work adopting an integrated approach (combining physical anthropology, kinesiology and substrate mechanics) needs to be done.
We have been studying bonobos at the Wild Animal Park Planckendael since the late 1990's, and will continue to do so. New projects will be framed in the context of the Locomorph project.
Bonobos are generalistic, mostly arboreal primates who frequently engage in terrestrial bipedalism. They are the most closely related species to humans (with chimpanzees) and therfeore we have been using bonobos as "models" for understanding early hominin bipedalism (see Publications). We have studied terrestrial bipedal and quadrupedal locomotion, as well as terrestrial locomotion, jumping (with Melanie Scholz and Maarten Bobbert, VU, Amsterdam) and anatomy (with Rachel Payne, RVC, UK). Future research will address additional locomotor modes.
Olive Baboons (Papio
Baboons are terrestrial quadrupeds, yet they spontaneously engage in bipedal locomotion as well. Since many nonhuman primates (specialised for other locomotor modes) are able to walk bipedally, studying baboons is relevant with regard to the conditions under which bipedalism developed in hominins. We focus on gait transitions and locomotion with morphological handicaps.
Collaborator: Gilles Berillon (CNRS, Paris, France).
Gibbon locomotion, with Evie Vereecke (Leuven University, Belgium), Anthony Channon (Royal Veterinary College, London, UK), and Robin Crompton (Liverpool University, UK)
Hominin foot function, with Nicole Griffin (Temple University, USA) and Brian Richmond (George Washington University, USA)
Ostrich locomotion, with Nina Schaller (Germany)
Okapi claw problems and anatomy, with Rachel Payne (RVC, London, UK)
Traditional footwear biomechanics, with Catherine Willems (Ghent, Belgium)
Subtalar joint function (with Ken Van Alsenoy, Artevelde University College, Belgium)