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Evidence of muscle synergies during human grasping


Motor synergies have been investigated since the 1980s as a simplifying representation of motor control by the nervous system. This way of representing finger positional data is in particular useful to represent the kinematics of the human hand. Whereas, so far, the focus has been on kinematic synergies, that is common patterns in the motion of the hand and fingers, we hereby also investigate their force aspects, evaluated through surface electromyography (sEMG). We especially show that force-related motor synergies exist, i.e. that muscle activation during grasping, as described by the sEMG signal, can be grouped synergistically; that these synergies are largely comparable to one another across human subjects notwithstanding the disturbances and inaccuracies typical of sEMG; and that they are physiologically feasible representations of muscular activity during grasping. Potential applications of this work include force control of mechanical hands, especially when many degrees of freedom must be simultaneously controlled.

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  1. Recall that from now on we will be using the dataset obtained by averaging out the sensor values over the carrying phases identified during the preprocessing phase.


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This work is partially supported by the European FP7-Project THE Hand Embodied (FP7-IST-248257) and by the Swiss National Science Foundation Sinergia project #132700, Ninapro (Non-Invasive Adaptive Prosthetics). The authors would also like to thank Mr. Johann Buchner of the DLR for building some of the electronics involved in the setup. Legal compliance the authors declare that the experiment described in this paper complies with the current relevant German laws.

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Correspondence to Claudio Castellini.

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Castellini, C., van der Smagt, P. Evidence of muscle synergies during human grasping. Biol Cybern 107, 233–245 (2013).

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  • Rehabilitation robotics
  • Grasping
  • Electromyography