March 7 (UPI) — New research into the locomotion of the chimpanzee’s walk has done more than help scientists better understand the primate’s biomechanics. The great ape has also helped researchers design more accurate computer-powered animal simulations.
While studying the unique walk of chimpanzees, scientists at the University of Manchester made unique tweaks to the “machine learning” algorithms that power animal simulations.
“Starting from an animal’s skeleton, computers using machine learning can now reconstruct how the animal could have moved,” environmental scientist Bill Sellers said in a news release. “However, they don’t always do a good job.”
That’s changed thanks to improvements made by Sellers and his colleagues.
“With some simple changes to the machine learning goals we can now create much more accurate simulations,” he said.
Sellers and his research partners detailed their investigation of the chimpanzee’s gait in a new paper published this week in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
“The idea was to look at how much energy it costs to walk in a stable fashion compared to other movement patterns,” Sellers said.
Using a complete CT scan of an adult male chimpanzee, scientists designed a skeletal model and skin outline. They used the model to identify muscle movements, joint positions and limb contact points during various phases of the chimp’s walking motion.
Scientists used their analysis to generate a simulation, allowing them to further analyze the animal’s walking mechanics.
Evolutionary biomechanics posits that animals evolve the most energy efficient gait possible, but the chimpanzee and the new model suggests otherwise.
“As technology has advanced and with musculoskeletal models becoming increasingly sophisticated, previous simulation models are becoming extremely unrealistic in relation to gait patterns so we have to adapt the way we think and research,” Sellers said.
When scientists boosted the lateral stability in the simulated walk, they found it increased the energy demands of the motion, but it also produced a gait more representative of the chimpanzee’s gait in reality.
“The realism of the gait produced by the chimpanzee model is considerably enhanced by including a lateral stability and it is highly likely that this is an important evolutionary development,” Sellers said. “This enhanced lateral stability comes at a moderate energetic cost however, and this cost would need to be outweighed by other adaptive advantage.”