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  1. Humans are strikingly adept at manipulating complex objects, from tying shoelaces to cracking a bullwhip. These motor skills have highly nonlinear interactive dynamics that defy reduction into parts. Yet, despite advances in data recording and processing, experiments in motor neuroscience still prioritize experimental reduction over realistic complexity. This study embraced the fully unconstrained behaviour of hitting a target with a 1.6-m bullwhip, both in rhythmic and discrete fashion. Adopting an object-centered approach to test the hypothesis that skilled movement simplifies the whip dynamics, the whip's evolution was characterized in relation to performance error and hand speed. Despite widely differing individual strategies, both discrete and rhythmic styles featured a cascade-like unfolding of the whip. Whip extension and orientation at peak hand speed predicted performance error, at least in the rhythmic style, suggesting that humans accomplished the task by setting initial conditions. These insights may inform further studies on human and robot control of complex objects.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2023
  2. Abstract Background

    Numerous studies showed that postural balance improves through light touch on a stable surface highlighting the importance of haptic information, seemingly downplaying the mechanical contributions of the support. The present study examined the mechanical effects of canes for assisting balance in healthy individuals challenged by standing on a beam.


    Sixteen participants supported themselves with two canes, one in each hand, and applied minimal, preferred, or maximum force onto the canes. They positioned the canes in the frontal plane or in a tripod configuration. Statistical analysis used a linear mixed model to evaluate the effects on the center of pressure and the center of mass.


    The canes significantly reduced the variability of the center of pressure and the center of mass to the same level as when standing on the ground. Increasing the exerted force beyond the preferred level yielded no further benefits, although in the preferred force condition, participants exploited the altered mechanics by resting their arms on the canes. The tripod configuration allowed for larger variability of the center of pressure in the task-irrelevant anterior–posterior dimension. High forces had a destabilizing effect on the canes: the displacement of the hand on the cane handle increased with the force.

    more »Conclusions

    Given this static instability, these results show that using canes can provide not only mechanical benefits but also challenges. From a control perspective, effort can be reduced by resting the arms on the canes and by channeling noise in the task-irrelevant dimensions. However, larger forces exerted onto the canes can also have destabilizing effects and the instability of the canes needs to be counteracted, possibly by arm and shoulder stiffness. Insights into the variety of mechanical effects is important for the design of canes and the instructions of how to use them.

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  3. Many daily tasks involve the collaboration of both hands. Humans dexterously adjust hand poses and modulate the forces exerted by fingers in response to task demands. Hand pose selection has been intensively studied in unimanual tasks, but little work has investigated bimanual tasks. This work examines hand poses selection in a bimanual high-precision-screwing task taken from watchmaking. Twenty right-handed subjects dismounted a screw on the watch face with a screwdriver in two conditions. Results showed that although subjects used similar hand poses across steps within the same experimental conditions, the hand poses differed significantly in the two conditions. In the free-base condition, subjects needed to stabilize the watch face on the table. The role distribution across hands was strongly influenced by hand dominance: the dominant hand manipulated the tool, whereas the nondominant hand controlled the additional degrees of freedom that might impair performance. In contrast, in the fixed-base condition, the watch face was stationary. Subjects used both hands even though single hand would have been sufficient. Importantly, hand poses decoupled the control of task-demanded force and torque across hands through virtual fingers that grouped multiple fingers into functional units. This preference for bimanual over unimanual control strategy could be anmore »effort to reduce variability caused by mechanical couplings and to alleviate intrinsic sensorimotor processing burdens. To afford analysis of this variety of observations, a novel graphical matrix-based representation of the distribution of hand pose combinations was developed. Atypical hand poses that are not documented in extant hand taxonomies are also included. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We study hand poses selection in bimanual fine motor skills. To understand how roles and control variables are distributed across the hands and fingers, we compared two conditions when unscrewing a screw from a watch face. When the watch face needed positioning, role distribution was strongly influenced by hand dominance; when the watch face was stationary, a variety of hand pose combinations emerged. Control of independent task demands is distributed either across hands or across distinct groups of fingers.« less
  4. Abstract Background

    Maintaining upright posture is an unstable task that requires sophisticated neuro-muscular control. Humans use foot–ground interaction forces, characterized by point of application, magnitude, and direction to manage body accelerations. When analyzing the directions of the ground reaction forces of standing humans in the frequency domain, previous work found a consistent pattern in different frequency bands. To test whether this frequency-dependent behavior provided a distinctive signature of neural control or was a necessary consequence of biomechanics, this study simulated quiet standing and compared the results with human subject data.


    Aiming to develop the simplest competent and neuromechanically justifiable dynamic model that could account for the pattern observed across multiple subjects, we first explored the minimum number of degrees of freedom required for the model. Then, we applied a well-established optimal control method that was parameterized to maximize physiologically-relevant insight to stabilize the balancing model.


    If a standing human was modeled as a single inverted pendulum, no controller could reproduce the experimentally observed pattern. The simplest competent model that approximated a standing human was a double inverted pendulum with torque-actuated ankle and hip joints. A range of controller parameters could stabilize this model and reproduce the general trend observed in experimentalmore »data; this result seems to indicate a biomechanical constraint and not a consequence of control. However, details of the frequency-dependent pattern varied substantially across tested control parameter values. The set of parameters that best reproduced the human experimental results suggests that the control strategy employed by human subjects to maintain quiet standing was best described by minimal control effort with an emphasis on ankle torque.


    The findings suggest that the frequency-dependent pattern of ground reaction forces observed in quiet standing conveys quantitative information about human control strategies. This study’s method might be extended to investigate human neural control strategies in different contexts of balance, such as with an assistive device or in neurologically impaired subjects.

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  5. null (Ed.)