At ASU's Human Machine Integration Laboratory, Sugar and his team are building "SPARKy" (Spring Ankle with Regenerative Kinetics) that mimics biology by storing and releasing energy during the ankle gait cycle.
"Energy is stored as the leg and body rolls over the ankle, and then this energy is released in a powerful burst to propel the user forward. By mimicking biology, we are able to build a very lightweight and functional device," Sugar said.
"Putting motors and springs together in a smart way is something nature hit on about 600 million years ago (with the earliest vertebrates)," Nishikawa said.
It's a notion that captured the interest of Discovery Channel Canada, which spent a day at NAU and a day at ASU taping for a segment of its Daily Planet show that will air in the fall.
The NAU researcher wants to know more about how the brain controls movement. About decade ago Nishikawa realized that how the brain and body work together to produce coordinated movement means understanding what muscles contribute to the whole process.
"Understanding what the neurological part is and what the muscular part is can help establish cause and effect," she said.
Identifying these mechanisms at the molecular level might aid medical research in developing better treatments for sufferers of Parkinson's, whose low force output results in stiff movements.
Nishikawa's studies of the neuromuscular basis for extremely rapid movements in animals, such as the toad snaring prey with its tongue, could leapfrog to a new model of muscle function, changing the standard representation of muscle as a motor.
|Contact: Lisa Nelson|
Northern Arizona University