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Concept: Classical mechanics


Ants can navigate over long distances between their nest and food sites using visual cues [1, 2]. Recent studies show that this capacity is undiminished when walking backward while dragging a heavy food item [3-5]. This challenges the idea that ants use egocentric visual memories of the scene for guidance [1, 2, 6]. Can ants use their visual memories of the terrestrial cues when going backward? Our results suggest that ants do not adjust their direction of travel based on the perceived scene while going backward. Instead, they maintain a straight direction using their celestial compass. This direction can be dictated by their path integrator [5] but can also be set using terrestrial visual cues after a forward peek. If the food item is too heavy to enable body rotations, ants moving backward drop their food on occasion, rotate and walk a few steps forward, return to the food, and drag it backward in a now-corrected direction defined by terrestrial cues. Furthermore, we show that ants can maintain their direction of travel independently of their body orientation. It thus appears that egocentric retinal alignment is required for visual scene recognition, but ants can translate this acquired directional information into a holonomic frame of reference, which enables them to decouple their travel direction from their body orientation and hence navigate backward. This reveals substantial flexibility and communication between different types of navigational information: from terrestrial to celestial cues and from egocentric to holonomic directional memories.

Concepts: Earth, Navigation, Classical mechanics, Rotation, Walking, Rigid body, Frame of reference, Drag-and-drop


Returning to the shore after a feeding sojourn at sea, king penguins often undertake a relatively long terrestrial journey to the breeding colony carrying a heavy, mostly frontal, accumulation of fat along with food in the stomach for chick-provisioning. There they must survive a fasting period of up to a month in duration, during which their complete reliance on endogenous energy stores results in a dramatic loss in body mass. Our aim was to determine if the king penguin’s walking gait changes with variations in body mass. We investigated this by walking king penguins on a treadmill while instrumented with an acceleration data logger. The stride frequency, dynamic body acceleration (DBA) and posture of fat (pre-fasting; 13.2 kg) and slim (post fasting; 11 kg) king penguins were assessed while they walked at the same speed (1.4km/h) on a treadmill. Paired statistical tests indicated no evidence for a difference in dynamic body acceleration or stride frequency between the two body masses however there was substantially less variability in both leaning angle and the leaning amplitude of the body when the birds were slimmer. Furthermore, there was some evidence that the slimmer birds exhibited a decrease in waddling amplitude. We suggest the increase in variability of both leaning angle and amplitude, as well as a possibly greater variability in the waddling amplitude, is likely to result from the frontal fat accumulation when the birds are heavier, which may move the centre of mass anteriorly, resulting in a less stable upright posture. This study is the first to use accelerometry to better understand the gait of a species within a specific ecological context: the considerable body mass change exhibited by king penguins.

Concepts: Mass, Bird, Classical mechanics, Penguin, Emperor Penguin, King Penguin, Walking, Penguins


The remarkable maneuverability of flying animals results from precise movements of their highly specialized wings. Bats have evolved an impressive capacity to control their flight, in large part due to their ability to modulate wing shape, area, and angle of attack through many independently controlled joints. Bat wings, however, also contain many bones and relatively large muscles, and thus the ratio of bats' wing mass to their body mass is larger than it is for all other extant flyers. Although the inertia in bat wings would typically be associated with decreased aerial maneuverability, we show that bat maneuvers challenge this notion. We use a model-based tracking algorithm to measure the wing and body kinematics of bats performing complex aerial rotations. Using a minimal model of a bat with only six degrees of kinematic freedom, we show that bats can perform body rolls by selectively retracting one wing during the flapping cycle. We also show that this maneuver does not rely on aerodynamic forces, and furthermore that a fruit fly, with nearly massless wings, would not exhibit this effect. Similar results are shown for a pitching maneuver. Finally, we combine high-resolution kinematics of wing and body movements during landing and falling maneuvers with a 52-degree-of-freedom dynamical model of a bat to show that modulation of wing inertia plays the dominant role in reorienting the bat during landing and falling maneuvers, with minimal contribution from aerodynamic forces. Bats can, therefore, use their wings as multifunctional organs, capable of sophisticated aerodynamic and inertial dynamics not previously observed in other flying animals. This may also have implications for the control of aerial robotic vehicles.

Concepts: Insect, Mass, Force, Classical mechanics, Bat, Flight, Wing, Flying and gliding animals


SignificanceThe goal of this study was to use the Surface Forces Apparatus to examine the effects of slip-stick friction on cartilage surface morphology under different loading and sliding conditions. Different load and speed regimes were represented using friction maps that separated regimes of smooth and stick-slip sliding. The finding of this work is that damage generally occurs within the stick-slip regimes and is not directly related to the friction coefficient. Prolonged exposure of cartilage surfaces to stick-slip sliding resulted in a significant increase of surface roughness, indicative of severe morphological changes (damage) of the cartilage surfaces.

Concepts: Force, Classical mechanics, Friction, Road, Tribology, Roughness, Normal force, Stick-slip phenomenon


We present a behavioural task designed for the investigation of how novel instrumental actions are discovered and learnt. The task consists of free movement with a manipulandum, during which the full range of possible movements can be explored by the participant and recorded. A subset of these movements, the ‘target’, is set to trigger a reinforcing signal. The task is to discover what movements of the manipulandum evoke the reinforcement signal. Targets can be defined in spatial, temporal, or kinematic terms, can be a combination of these aspects, or can represent the concatenation of actions into a larger gesture. The task allows the study of how the specific elements of behaviour which cause the reinforcing signal are identified, refined and stored by the participant. The task provides a paradigm where the exploratory motive drives learning and as such we view it as in the tradition of Thorndike [1]. Most importantly it allows for repeated measures, since when a novel action is acquired the criterion for triggering reinforcement can be changed requiring a new action to be discovered. Here, we present data using both humans and rats as subjects, showing that our task is easily scalable in difficulty, adaptable across species, and produces a rich set of behavioural measures offering new and valuable insight into the action learning process.

Concepts: Psychology, Learning, Study skills, Knowledge, Classical mechanics, Intelligence, Behaviorism, B. F. Skinner


An object in outer space is weightless due to the absence of gravity, but astronauts can still judge whether one object is heavier than another one by accelerating the object. How heavy an object feels depends on the exploration mode: an object is perceived as heavier when holding it against the pull of gravity than when accelerating it. At the same time, perceiving an object’s size influences the percept: small objects feel heavier than large objects with the same mass (size-weight illusion). Does this effect depend on perception of the pull of gravity? To answer this question, objects were suspended from a long wire and participants were asked to push an object and rate its heaviness. This way the contribution of gravitational forces on the percept was minimised. Our results show that weight is not at all necessary for the illusion because the size-weight illusion occurred without perception of weight. The magnitude of the illusion was independent of whether inertial or gravitational forces were perceived. We conclude that the size-weight illusion does not depend on prior knowledge about weights of object, but instead on a more general knowledge about the mass of objects, independent of the contribution of gravity. Consequently, the size-weight illusion will have the same magnitude on Earth as it should have on the Moon or even under conditions of weightlessness.

Concepts: General relativity, Cognition, Force, Space, Gravitation, Classical mechanics, Weightlessness, Weight


Friction characteristics with respect to surface topographic orientation were investigated using surfaces of different materials and fabricated with grooves of different scales. Scratching friction tests were conducted using a nano-indentation-scratching system with the tip motion parallel or perpendicular to the groove orientation. Similar friction anisotropy trends were observed for all the surfaces studied, which are (1) under a light load and for surfaces with narrow grooves, the tip motion parallel to the grooves offers higher friction coefficients than does that perpendicular to them, (2) otherwise, equal or lower friction coefficients are found under this motion. The influences of groove size relative to the diameter of the mating tip (as a representative asperity), surface contact stiffness, contact area, and the characteristic stiction length are discussed. The appearance of this friction anisotropy is independent of material; however, the boundary and the point of trend transition depend on material properties.

Concepts: Force, Materials science, Orientation, Classical mechanics, Surface, Young's modulus, Friction, Tribology


Background Current inertial motion capture systems are rarely used in biomedical applications. The attachment and connection of the sensors with cables is often a complex and time consuming task. Moreover, it is prone to errors, because each sensor has to be attached to a predefined body segment. By using wireless inertial sensors and automatic identification of their positions on the human body, the complexity of the set-up can be reduced and incorrect attachments are avoided.We present a novel method for the automatic identification of inertial sensors on human body segments during walking. This method allows the user to place (wireless) inertial sensors on arbitrary body segments. Next, the user walks for just a few seconds and the segment to which each sensor is attached is identified automatically.MethodsWalking data was recorded from ten healthy subjects using an Xsens MVN Biomech system with full-body configuration (17 inertial sensors). Subjects were asked to walk for about 6 seconds at normal walking speed (about 5 km/h). After rotating the sensor data to a global coordinate frame with x-axis in walking direction, y-axis pointing left and z-axis vertical, RMS, mean, and correlation coefficient features were extracted from x-, y- and z-components and magnitudes of the accelerations, angular velocities and angular accelerations. As a classifier, a decision tree based on the C4.5 algorithm was developed using Weka (Waikato Environment for Knowledge Analysis).Results and conclusions After testing the algorithm with 10-fold cross-validation using 31 walkingtrials (involving 527 sensors), 514 sensors were correctly classified (97.5%). When a decision tree for alower body plus trunk configuration (8 inertial sensors) was trained andtested using 10-fold cross-validation, 100% of the sensors were correctly identified. This decision tree wasalso tested on walking trials of 7 patients (17 walking trials) after anterior cruciate ligamentreconstruction, which also resulted in 100% correct identification, thus illustrating the robustness of themethod.

Concepts: Human body, Classical mechanics, Walking, Motion capture, Decision tree learning


The paper presents a multifunctional joint sensor with measurement adaptability for biological engineering applications, such as gait analysis, gesture recognition, etc. The adaptability is embodied in both static and dynamic environment measurements, both of body pose and in motion capture. Its multifunctional capabilities lay in its ability of simultaneous measurement of multiple degrees of freedom (MDOF) with a single sensor to reduce system complexity. The basic working mode enables 2DOF spatial angle measurement over big ranges and stands out for its applications on different joints of different individuals without recalibration. The optional advanced working mode enables an additional DOF measurement for various applications. By employing corrugated tube as the main body, the sensor is also characterized as flexible and wearable with less restraints. MDOF variations are converted to linear displacements of the sensing elements. The simple reconstruction algorithm and small outputs volume are capable of providing real-time angles and long-term monitoring. The performance assessment of the built prototype is promising enough to indicate the feasibility of the sensor.

Concepts: Measurement, Joint, Classical mechanics, Angle, Motion capture, User interface, Reconstruction algorithm, Gait analysis


This paper focuses on several aspects extending the dynamical efficiency of a cantilever beam vibrating in the third mode. A few ways of producing this mode stimulation, namely vibro-impact or forced excitation, as well as its application for energy harvesting devices are proposed. The paper presents numerical and experimental analyses of novel structural dynamics effects along with an optimal configuration of the cantilever beam. The peculiarities of a cantilever beam vibrating in the third mode are related to the significant increase of the level of deformations capable of extracting significant additional amounts of energy compared to the conventional harvester vibrating in the first mode. Two types of a piezoelectric vibrating energy harvester (PVEH) prototype are analysed in this paper: the first one without electrode segmentation, while the second is segmented using electrode segmentation at the strain nodes of the third vibration mode to achieve effective operation at the third resonant frequency. The results of this research revealed that the voltage generated by any segment of the segmented PVEH prototype excited at the third resonant frequency demonstrated a 3.4-4.8-fold increase in comparison with the non-segmented prototype. Simultaneously, the efficiency of the energy harvester prototype also increased at lower resonant frequencies from 16% to 90%. The insights presented in the paper may serve for the development and fabrication of advanced piezoelectric energy harvesters which would be able to generate a considerably increased amount of electrical energy independently of the frequency of kinematical excitation.

Concepts: Wave, Frequency, Classical mechanics, Resonance, Vibration, Harmonic oscillator, Standing wave, Energy harvesting