Simple analytical model reveals the functional role of embodied sensorimotor interaction in hexapod gaits

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Insects have various gaits with specific characteristics and can change their gaits smoothly in accordance with their speed. These gaits emerge from the embodied sensorimotor interactions that occur between the insect’s neural control and body dynamic systems through sensory feedback. Sensory feedback plays a critical role in coordinated movements such as locomotion, particularly in stick insects. While many previously developed insect models can generate different insect gaits, the functional role of embodied sensorimotor interactions in the interlimb coordination of insects remains unclear because of their complexity. In this study, we propose a simple physical model that is amenable to mathematical analysis to explain the functional role of these interactions clearly. We focus on a foot contact sensory feedback called phase resetting, which regulates leg retraction timing based on touchdown information. First, we used a hexapod robot to determine whether the distributed decoupled oscillators used for legs with the sensory feedback generate insect-like gaits through embodied sensorimotor interactions. The robot generated two different gaits and one had similar characteristics to insect gaits. Next, we proposed the simple model as a minimal model that allowed us to analyze and explain the gait mechanism through the embodied sensorimotor interactions. The simple model consists of a rigid body with massless springs acting as legs, where the legs are controlled using oscillator phases with phase resetting, and the governed equations are reduced such that they can be explained using only the oscillator phases with some approximations. This simplicity leads to analytical solutions for the hexapod gaits via perturbation analysis, despite the complexity of the embodied sensorimotor interactions. This is the first study to provide an analytical model for insect gaits under these interaction conditions. Our results clarified how this specific foot contact sensory feedback contributes to generation of insect-like ipsilateral interlimb coordination during hexapod locomotion.

TidsskriftPLoS ONE
StatusUdgivet - 2018