Coordination disorder at the push of a button

Futur 22

Using humanoid robots to get to the roots of neural disorders
[Photo: Stock/Oleksandr Moroz]

The human system is highly complex To gain a better understanding of biological movement, researchers working under the auspices of the Regional Research Alliance "Human System", a collaboration between the Universities of Stuttgart and Tübingen have built a bio-robot.

“Picture the human being as an orchestra: You can hear the overall result, but the contribution of the individual components is not immediately evident. That's what biological dynamics are like”, says Professor Syn Schmitt of the University of Stuttgart's Simulation Technology (SimTech) Cluster of Excellence. To analyze and understand these individual, highly-complex movements in the human biological system, he and his colleague Dr. Daniel Häufl e and their two junior research groups have built the bio-robot “ATARO” at the University Hospital of Tübingen (UKT).

ATARO bewegt seinen Arm wie ein echter Mensch. Das Wissen übers Erzeugen und Kontrollieren der Bewegungen ermöglicht unter anderem die Erforschung von Erkrankungen des zentralen Nervensystems.
ATARO moves its arm like a real human. knowing how the movements are generated and controlled facilitates research into diseases of the central nervous system among other things.

ATARO moves its arm like a real human. It can mimic the movement exactly, as it moves its arm using muscles. in other words, the energy for the muscle movement is the result of the linear motion of a muscle contraction. “ATARO is already at the stage where it can throw a ball rapidly towards the ceiling and trace a circle with its hand”, says Schmitt.

Among other things, their knowledge of the generation and control of these movements enables Schmitt and his team to carry out research into disorders that affect the central nervous system. They specialize in the study of cerebral ataxia, a movement coordination disorder triggered by circulatory disorders in the cerebellum. Those affected by the disorder can no longer accurately reach for a glass and end up knocking it over. “We want to produce a mathematical, theoretical model of the human system, which is capable of explaining ataxia”.

With ATARO, the team has already succeeded in being able to switch ataxia on or off at will. Instead of pointing at specific markings , the robot’s finger moves in an uncoordinated manner and misses the target. “Studying this particular disorder has important ramifications for our overall understanding of the neurosciences”. The knowledge gained through this project could be used in rehabilitation robotics or robotic care systems in future, which involve the robotic support or control of muscle movements.

We want to produce a mathematical, theoretical model of the human system, which is capable of explaining ataxia

Professor Syn Schmitt

Part of the Regional Research Alliance "Human System"

The ATARO project for neuromuscular movement control is part of the regional research alliance between the Universities of Stuttgart and Tübingen in Baden-Württemberg, the objective being to develop models of the highly-complex, biological human system. The models are designed to enable successful interactions between humans and machines, as well as to bring about a fundamental improvement in diagnosing and treating disease-based disorders.The research alliance is part of the “Cyber Valley” initiative and exploits regionally available expertise in the fi elds of mechanical engineering, automotive engineering, robotics and medical engineering. Also involved are the Max Planck Institutes for Biological Cybernetics and Intelligent Systems and the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation.

Bettina Künzler



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