Simplified and effective motor control based on muscle synergies to exploit musculoskeletal dynamics

Max Berniker, Anthony Jarc, Emilio Bizzi*, Matthew C. Tresch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


The basic hypothesis of producing a range of behaviors using a small set of motor commands has been proposed in various forms to explain motor behaviors ranging from basic reflexes to complex voluntary movements. Yet many fundamental questions regarding this long-standing hypothesis remain unanswered. Indeed, given the prominent nonlinearities and high dimensionality inherent in the control of biological limbs, the basic feasibility of a low- dimensional controller and an underlying principle for its creation has remained elusive. We propose a principle for the design of such a controller, that it endeavors to control the natural dynamics of the limb, taking into account the nature of the task being performed. Using this principle, we obtained a low-dimensional model of the hindlimb and a set of muscle synergies to command it. We demonstrate that this set of synergies was capable of producing effective control, establishing the viability of this muscle synergy hypothesis. Finally, by combining the low-dimensional model and the muscle synergies we were able to build a relatively simple controller whose overall performance was close to that of the system's full-dimensional nonlinear controller. Taken together, the results of this study establish that a low-dimensional controller is capable of simplifying control without degrading performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7601-7606
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
StatePublished - May 5 2009


  • Computational model
  • Low-dimensional
  • Muscle pattern
  • Optimal control
  • frog

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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