Vector field approximation: a computational paradigm for motor control and learning

Ferdinando A. Mussa-Ivaldi*, Simon F. Giszter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


Recent experiments in the spinalized frog (Bizzi et al. 1991) have shown that focal microstimulation of a site in the premotor layers in the lumbar grey matter of the spinal cord results in a field of forces acting on the frog's ankle and converging to a single equilibrium position. These experiments suggested that the neural circuits in the spinal cord are organized in a set of control modules that "store" a few limb postures in the form of convergent force fields acting on the limb's end-point. Here, we investigate how such postural modules can be combined by the central nervous system for generating and representing a wider repertoire of control patterns. Our work is related to some recent investigations by Poggio and Girosi (1990a, b) who have proposed to represent the task of learning scalar maps as a problem of surface approximation. Consistent both with this view and with our experimental findings in the spinal frog, we regard the issue of generating motor repertoires as a problem of vector-field approximation. To this end, we characterize the output of a control module as a "basis field" (Mussa-Ivaldi 1992), that is as the vectorial equivalent of a basis function. Our theoretical findings indicate that by combining basis fields, the central nervous system may achieve a number of goals such as (1) the generation of a wide repertoire of control patterns and (2) the representation of these control patterns with a set of coefficients that are invariant under coordinate transformations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)491-500
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Cybernetics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Oct 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Computer Science(all)


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