July 6, 2012 at 3:17 PM ET
A robot with a human-like gait and is shedding light on how babies learn to walk.
The robot was built to model the neuromuscular architecture of human walking, explain the researchers at the University of Arizona.
Key to its success is replication of something called the central pattern generator in humans. This is a neural network in the lumbar region of the spinal cord that generates the rhythmic muscle signals the body needs to generate steps.
The CPG produces, then controls, these signals by gathering information from different parts of the body that are responding to the environment – such as the slope of the surface of a surface.
“This is what allows people to walk without needing to think about it,” the Institute of Physics explains in a press release on the technology, which is described today in their Journal of Engineering.
The simplest form of a CPG is called a half center, which consists of two neurons that fire signals alternately.
The robot has an artificial half center as well as sensors that measure force in the limb as the leg is pressed onto a surface, allowing it to walk with a human-like gait.
The researchers hypothesize that babies start off with a simple half center similar to their robot’s and, over time, this is how they learn how to walk.
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.