The simplest walking model: stability, complexity, and scaling

J Biomech Eng. 1998 Apr;120(2):281-8. doi: 10.1115/1.2798313.


We demonstrate that an irreducibly simple, uncontrolled, two-dimensional, two-link model, vaguely resembling human legs, can walk down a shallow slope, powered only by gravity. This model is the simplest special case of the passive-dynamic models pioneered by McGeer (1990a). It has two rigid massless legs hinged at the hip, a point-mass at the hip, and infinitesimal point-masses at the feet. The feet have plastic (no-slip, no-bounce) collisions with the slope surface, except during forward swinging, when geometric interference (foot scuffing) is ignored. After nondimensionalizing the governing equations, the model has only one free parameter, the ramp slope gamma. This model shows stable walking modes similar to more elaborate models, but allows some use of analytic methods to study its dynamics. The analytic calculations find initial conditions and stability estimates for period-one gait limit cycles. The model exhibits two period-one gait cycles, one of which is stable when 0 < gamma < 0.015 rad. With increasing gamma, stable cycles of higher periods appear, and the walking-like motions apparently become chaotic through a sequence of period doublings. Scaling laws for the model predict that walking speed is proportional to stance angle, stance angle is proportional to gamma 1/3, and that the gravitational power used is proportional to v4 where v is the velocity along the slope.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Foot / physiology
  • Forecasting
  • Gait / physiology
  • Gravitation
  • Hip Joint / physiology
  • Humans
  • Leg / physiology
  • Models, Biological*
  • Posture / physiology
  • Walking / physiology*