Compass gait mechanics account for top walking speeds in ducks and humans

Usherwood, J R and Szymanek, K L and Daley, M A (2008) Compass gait mechanics account for top walking speeds in ducks and humans. JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY, 211 (23). pp. 3744-3749.

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The constraints to maximum walking speed and the underlying cause of the walk-run transition remains controversial. However, the motions of the body and legs can be reduced to a few mechanical principles, which, if valid, impose simple physics-based limits to walking speed. Bipedal walking may be viewed as a vaulting gait, with the centre of mass (CoM) passing over a stiff stance leg (an 'inverted pendulum'), while the swing leg swings forward (as a pendulum). At its simplest, this forms a. compass gait' walker, which has a maximum walking speed constrained by simple mechanics: walk too fast, or with too high a step length, and gravity fails to keep the stance foot attached to the floor. But how useful is such an extremely reductionist model? In the present study, we report measurements on a range of duck breeds as example unspecialized, non-planar, crouch-limbed walkers and contrast these findings with previous measurements on humans, using the theoretical framework of compass gait walking. Ducks walked as inverted pendulums with near-passive swing legs up to relative velocities around 0.5, remarkably consistent with the theoretical model. By contrast, top walking speeds in humans cannot be achieved with passive swing legs: humans, while still constrained by compass gait mechanics, extend their envelope of walking speeds by using relatively high step frequencies. Therefore, the capacity to drive the swing leg forward by walking humans may be a specialization for walking, allowing near-passive vaulting of the CoM at walking speeds 4/3 that possible with a passive (duck-like) swing leg.