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Balancing with Vibration: A Prelude for “Drift and Act” Balance Control

Public Library of Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007427
  • Research Article
  • Mathematics/Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Neuroscience/Motor Systems
  • Neuroscience/Theoretical Neuroscience
  • Design
  • Mathematics


Stick balancing at the fingertip is a powerful paradigm for the study of the control of human balance. Here we show that the mean stick balancing time is increased by about two-fold when a subject stands on a vibrating platform that produces vertical vibrations at the fingertip (0.001 m, 15–50 Hz). High speed motion capture measurements in three dimensions demonstrate that vibration does not shorten the neural latency for stick balancing or change the distribution of the changes in speed made by the fingertip during stick balancing, but does decrease the amplitude of the fluctuations in the relative positions of the fingertip and the tip of the stick in the horizontal plane, A(x,y). The findings are interpreted in terms of a time-delayed “drift and act” control mechanism in which controlling movements are made only when controlled variables exceed a threshold, i.e. the stick survival time measures the time to cross a threshold. The amplitude of the oscillations produced by this mechanism can be decreased by parametric excitation. It is shown that a plot of the logarithm of the vibration-induced increase in stick balancing skill, a measure of the mean first passage time, versus the standard deviation of the A(x,y) fluctuations, a measure of the distance to the threshold, is linear as expected for the times to cross a threshold in a stochastic dynamical system. These observations suggest that the balanced state represents a complex time–dependent state which is situated in a basin of attraction that is of the same order of size. The fact that vibration amplitude can benefit balance control raises the possibility of minimizing risk of falling through appropriate changes in the design of footwear and roughness of the walking surfaces.

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