Open Access Research

A biologically inspired neural network controller for ballistic arm movements

Ivan Bernabucci1*, Silvia Conforto1, Marco Capozza2, Neri Accornero2, Maurizio Schmid1 and Tommaso D'Alessio1

Author Affiliations

1 Dipartimento di Elettronica Applicata, Università degli Studi "Roma TRE", Roma, Italy

2 Dipartimento di Scienze Neurologiche, Università "La Sapienza", Roma, Italy

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Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation 2007, 4:33  doi:10.1186/1743-0003-4-33

Published: 3 September 2007



In humans, the implementation of multijoint tasks of the arm implies a highly complex integration of sensory information, sensorimotor transformations and motor planning. Computational models can be profitably used to better understand the mechanisms sub-serving motor control, thus providing useful perspectives and investigating different control hypotheses. To this purpose, the use of Artificial Neural Networks has been proposed to represent and interpret the movement of upper limb. In this paper, a neural network approach to the modelling of the motor control of a human arm during planar ballistic movements is presented.


The developed system is composed of three main computational blocks: 1) a parallel distributed learning scheme that aims at simulating the internal inverse model in the trajectory formation process; 2) a pulse generator, which is responsible for the creation of muscular synergies; and 3) a limb model based on two joints (two degrees of freedom) and six muscle-like actuators, that can accommodate for the biomechanical parameters of the arm. The learning paradigm of the neural controller is based on a pure exploration of the working space with no feedback signal. Kinematics provided by the system have been compared with those obtained in literature from experimental data of humans.


The model reproduces kinematics of arm movements, with bell-shaped wrist velocity profiles and approximately straight trajectories, and gives rise to the generation of synergies for the execution of movements. The model allows achieving amplitude and direction errors of respectively 0.52 cm and 0.2 radians.

Curvature values are similar to those encountered in experimental measures with humans.

The neural controller also manages environmental modifications such as the insertion of different force fields acting on the end-effector.


The proposed system has been shown to properly simulate the development of internal models and to control the generation and execution of ballistic planar arm movements. Since the neural controller learns to manage movements on the basis of kinematic information and arm characteristics, it could in perspective command a neuroprosthesis instead of a biomechanical model of a human upper limb, and it could thus give rise to novel rehabilitation techniques.