Froude and the contribution of naval architecture to our understanding of bipedal locomotion

Gait Posture. 2005 Apr;21(3):350-62. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2004.01.011.


It is fascinating to think that the ideas of two 19th century naval architects could offer useful insights for 21st century scientists contemplating the exploration of our planetary system or monitoring the long-term effects of a neurosurgical procedure on gait. The Froude number, defined as Fr = v2/gL, where v is velocity, g is gravitational acceleration and L is a characteristic linear dimension (such as leg length), has found widespread application in the biomechanics of bipedal locomotion. This review of two parameters, Fr and dimensionless velocity beta = (Fr)1/2, that have served as the criterion for dynamic similarity, has been arranged in two parts: (I) historical development, including the contributions by William Froude and his son Edmund, two ship designers who lived more than 130 years ago, the classic insights of D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson who, in his magnum opus On Growth and Form, espoused the connection between mathematics and biology, and the pioneering efforts of Robert McNeill Alexander, who popularised the application of Fr to animal locomotion; and (II) selected applications, including a comparison of walking for people of different heights, exploring the effects of different gravitational fields on human locomotion, establishing the impact of pathology and the benefits of treatment, and understanding the walking patterns of bipedal robots. Although not all applications of Fr to locomotion have been covered, the review offers an important historical context for all researchers of bipedal gait, and extends the idea of dimensionless scaling of gait parameters.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Ships / history*

Personal name as subject

  • William Froude
  • Edmund Froude