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Penguins waddle but they don't fall down, UH researchers say

to teach those people how to walk more efficiently despite their side-to-side motion, to learn the same kind of stability as the penguin."

Another application for this research involves the construction of sophisticated robots. Kurz said it is very expensive to construct a robot that can successfully adjust to side to side, or medial-lateral, motion. Robots currently in use, such as the Asimo robot that mimics human walking patterns, have large, expensive and cumbersome computers built onto their "bodies" to keep them from tipping over when they walk and run. His research can be used to build smaller computers for such robots that will become increasingly more life-like.

"There is not much research on this issue, so we're hopeful about the results," Kurz said.

To facilitate his study, Kurz has created a special platform that contains a pressure mat. As penguins walk across the mat, it measures the variability in the width and length of their steps. The data will provide insight into the natural mechanics and stability of the penguins' walking patterns.

Kurz is collaborating with biologists at Moody Gardens, a public, nonprofit educational destination utilizing nature in the advancement of rehabilitation, conservation, recreation and research.

"This study provides a unique opportunity to have direct access to an aspect of the natural world that would otherwise be inaccessible," Greg Whittaker, Moody Gardens animal husbandry manager, said. "This research also may have real applications in addressing skeletal deformities that occasionally occur in captive penguins. By establishing the normal mechanics of penguin walking, we can better understand how to recognize and deal with abnormalities."

King penguins were chosen because of their hefty size. Smaller birds, such as the rock hopper penguins, were too lightweight to register data on the mat. King penguins, second in size only to the larger Emperor pen
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Source:University of Houston


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