A hierarchical foundation for models of sensorimotor control
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Successful performance of a sensorimotor task arises from the interaction of descending commands from the brain with the intrinsic properties of the lower levels of the sensorimotor system, including the dynamic mechanical properties of muscle, the natural coordinates of somatosensory receptors, the interneuronal circuitry of the spinal cord, and computational noise in these elements. Engineering models of biological motor control often oversimplify or even ignore these lower levels because they appear to complicate an already difficult problem. We modeled three highly simplified control systems that reflect the essential attributes of the lower levels in three tasks: acquiring a target in the face of random torque-pulse perturbations, optimizing fusimotor gain for the same perturbations, and minimizing postural error versus energy consumption during low- versus high-frequency perturbations. The emergent properties of the lower levels maintained stability in the face of feedback delays, resolved redundancy in over-complete systems, and helped to estimate loads and respond to perturbations. We suggest a general hierarchical approach to modeling sensorimotor systems, which better reflects the real control problem faced by the brain, as a first step toward identifying the actual neurocomputational steps and their anatomical partitioning in the brain.
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