There has been a long standing interest in the design of controllers for multilegged vehicles. The approach is to apply distributed control to this problem, rather than using parallel computing of a centralized algorithm. Researchers describe a distributed neural network controller for hexapod locomotion which is based on the neural control of locomotion in insects. The model considers the simplified kinematics with two degrees of freedom per leg, but the model includes the static stability constraint. Through simulation, it is demonstrated that this controller can generate a continuous range of statically stable gaits at different speeds by varying a single control parameter. In addition, the controller is extremely robust, and can continue the function even after several of its elements have been disabled. Researchers are building a small hexapod robot whose locomotion will be controlled by this network. Researchers intend to extend their model to the dynamic control of legs with more than two degrees of freedom by using data on the control of multisegmented insect legs. Another immediate application of this neural control approach is also exhibited in biology: the escape reflex. Advanced robots are being equipped with tactile sensing and machine vision so that the sensory inputs to the robot controller are vast and complex. Neural networks are ideal for a lower level safety reflex controller because of their extremely fast response time. The combination of robotics, computer modeling, and neurobiology has been remarkably fruitful, and is likely to lead to deeper insights into the problems of real time sensorimotor control.
Jet Propulsion Lab., California Inst. of Tech., Proceedings of the 3rd Annual Conference on Aerospace Computational Control, Volume 2; p 664-673