RESEARCH

How do we walk? How does the brain enable us to put one foot in front of the other? How do we prioritise sensory information? Have you ever adjusted your gait a few metres before a kurb without thinking about it? Have you ever changed speed to suit the music on your iPod without realising it? Answering these types of questions can help in the rehabilitation of people who have walking disorders, those with impaired sensory pathways or limb loss, either by enabling better design of rehabilitation programmes that take into account the neurophysiology of gait, or through the design and human-computer integration of external devices such as training aids and prosthetic limbs. 

Walking is partly autonomous and I became fascinated by automata as a child taking apart clocks and watches to see how they work. At the same time I became interested in how the brain works and the big philosophical questions about consciousness. To tackle questions about how the brain controls the body, scientists can either study simpler animals or build robots to see if their program performs in similar ways to humans. That led me to study robotics and automated systems at Plymouth. I had plans to build a full-sized humanoid biped in the hope I could teach it to walk and see how it learnt, but I soon discovered the difficulties of stability and motor control and compromised by building these six-legged walking robots ..