EN.530.475/675. Locomotion Mechanics: Fundamentals


This upper level undergraduate and graduate class will discuss fundamental mechanics of locomotion of both animals and machines, particularly bio-inspired robots. Locomotion emerges from effective physical interaction with an environment; therefore, the ability to generate appropriate forces (besides sensing, control, and planning) is essential to successful locomotion. General principles and integration of knowledge from engineering, biology, and physics will be emphasized.


Sample topics include:

  • How can kangaroos hop faster and fleas jump higher than their muscles allow?
  • Why do race walkers use a peculiar hip movement?
  • How do animals inspire prosthetic feet that helped Blade Runner compete with abled athletes?
  • Why do Boston Dynamics’ robots move so well in most modest environments, and why does it still fail in complex terrain?
  • Why do horses walk at low speeds but run at higher speeds?
  • Can T-Rex run or must they walk?
  • Why do larger animals become more erect in their leg posture?
  • Why can a mouse falling from a skyscraper walk away with little injury, but a horse will smash?
  • How can our muscles serve as energy-saving springs, force transmitting struts, and even energy-damping brakes?
  • Why do migrating birds fly in a V-formation? Do Speedo’s sharkskin swimsuits really reduce drag?

Nearly all these fundamental studies of interesting biological locomotion phenomena have led to engineering devices that use the same physics principles to move in complex environments, with performance approaching that of animals.


  • Students from ME, Robotics, and other programs are all welcome.
  • Freshmen and sophomores with sufficient physics background may take with instructor approval.
  • Students should have a strong understanding of Newtonian mechanics.
  • Recommended background: B or higher in EN.530.202 Dynamics or EN.560.202 Dynamics.

Future plans

  • This class will be offered every Fall.