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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 1, 2024
  2. An important component for the effective collaboration of humans with robots is the compatibility of their movements, especially when humans physically collaborate with a robot partner. Following previous findings that humans interact more seamlessly with a robot that moves with humanlike or biological velocity profiles, this study examined whether humans can adapt to a robot that violates human signatures. The specific focus was on the role of extensive practice and realtime augmented feedback. Six groups of participants physically tracked a robot tracing an ellipse with profiles where velocity scaled with the curvature of the path in biological and nonbiological ways, while instructed to minimize the interaction force with the robot. Three of the 6 groups received real-time visual feedback about their force error. Results showed that with 3 daily practice sessions, when given feedback about their force errors, humans could decrease their interaction forces when the robot’s trajectory violated human-like velocity patterns. Conversely, when augmented feedback was not provided, there were no improvements despite this extensive practice. The biological profile showed no improvements, even with feedback, indicating that the (non-zero) force had already reached a floor level. These findings highlight the importance of biological robot trajectories and augmented feedback to guide humans to adapt to non-biological movements in physical human-robot interaction. These results have implications on various fields of robotics, such as surgical applications and collaborative robots for industry. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 29, 2024
  3. Tactile sensing has been increasingly utilized in robot control of unknown objects to infer physical properties and optimize manipulation. However, there is limited understanding about the contribution of different sensory modalities during interactive perception in complex interaction both in robots and in humans. This study investigated the effect of visual and haptic information on humans’ exploratory interactions with a ‘cup of coffee’, an object with nonlinear internal dynamics. Subjects were instructed to rhythmically transport a virtual cup with a rolling ball inside between two targets at a specified frequency, using a robotic interface. The cup and targets were displayed on a screen, and force feedback from the cup-andball dynamics was provided via the robotic manipulandum. Subjects were encouraged to explore and prepare the dynamics by “shaking” the cup-and-ball system to find the best initial conditions prior to the task. Two groups of subjects received the full haptic feedback about the cup-and-ball movement during the task; however, for one group the ball movement was visually occluded. Visual information about the ball movement had two distinctive effects on the performance: it reduced preparation time needed to understand the dynamics and, importantly, it led to simpler, more linear input-output interactions between hand and object. The results highlight how visual and haptic information regarding nonlinear internal dynamics have distinct roles for the interactive perception of complex objects. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 29, 2024
  4. Abstract Humans are adept at a wide variety of motor skills, including the handling of complex objects and using tools. Advances to understand the control of voluntary goal-directed movements have focused on simple behaviors such as reaching, uncoupled to any additional object dynamics. Under these simplified conditions, basic elements of motor control, such as the roles of body mechanics, objective functions, and sensory feedback, have been characterized. However, these elements have mostly been examined in isolation, and the interactions between these elements have received less attention. This study examined a task with internal dynamics, inspired by the daily skill of transporting a cup of coffee, with additional expected or unexpected perturbations to probe the structure of the controller. Using optimal feedback control (OFC) as the basis, it proved necessary to endow the model of the body with mechanical impedance to generate the kinematic features observed in the human experimental data. The addition of mechanical impedance revealed that simulated movements were no longer sensitively dependent on the objective function, a highly debated cornerstone of optimal control. Further, feedforward replay of the control inputs was similarly successful in coping with perturbations as when feedback, or sensory information, was included. These findings suggest that when the control model incorporates a representation of the mechanical properties of the limb, that is, embodies its dynamics, the specific objective function and sensory feedback become less critical, and complex interactions with dynamic objects can be successfully managed. 
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  5. 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. 
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  6. 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.


    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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  7. null (Ed.)
    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 an 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. 
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