Some Challenges of Playing with Power

Meeting Abstract

S3-2  Friday, Jan. 4 08:30 – 09:00  Some Challenges of Playing with Power ROBERTS, TJ; Brown University

Many studies of the flow of energy between the body, muscles, and elastic elements highlight advantages of the storage and recovery of elastic energy. The spring-like action of structures associated with muscles allows for movements that are less costly, more powerful and safer than would be possible with contractile elements alone. But these actions also present challenges that might not be present if the pattern of energy flow were simpler, e.g., if power were always applied directly from muscle to motions of the body. Muscle is under the direct control of the nervous system, and precise modulation of activity can allow for finely controlled displacement and force. Elastic structures deform under load in a predictable way, but are not under direct control, thus both displacement and the flow of energy are at the mercy of the mechanical interaction of muscle and forces associated with movement. Studies on isolated muscle-tendon units highlight the challenges of controlling such systems. A carefully tuned activation pattern is necessary for effectively cycling of energy between tendon and the environment; most activation patterns lead to futile cycling of energy between tendon and muscle. In power-amplified systems, “elastic backfire” sometimes occurs, where energy loaded into tendon acts to lengthen active muscles, rather than accelerate the body. Classic models of proprioception that rely on muscle spindle organs for sensing muscle and joint displacement illustrate how elastic structures might influence sensory feedback by decoupling joint movement from muscle fiber displacements. Exactly what challenges complex flows of energy within muscles, elastic elements and motion might present to sensory-motor mechanisms is largely unexplored.

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