Is there a way to walk across slip­pery sur­faces with­out fall­ing?

Focus-Science and Technology - - Q&A - TOM BELL, LV

RE­CENT RE­SEARCH AT the Salk In­sti­tute for Bi­o­log­i­cal Sciences in Cal­i­for­nia found that we bal­ance on slip­pery or nar­row sur­faces us­ing clus­ters of RORa neu­rones in the spinal cord. Th­ese ‘mini brains’ process the huge amount of sen­sory in­for­ma­tion com­ing from your skin, mus­cles, in­ner ear and eyes and make hun­dreds of tiny cor­rec­tions per sec­ond. It’s a bit like the ABS in your car con­stantly watch­ing for a skid and pump­ing the brakes be­fore it hap­pens. You can also re­duce your chances of a fall by copy­ing pen­guins. When you walk nor­mally, your cen­tre of grav­ity is only di­rectly above the weight-bear­ing foot for a small part of each stride. If you wad­dle from side to side in­stead, your cen­tre of grav­ity al­ways stays above one foot or the other. This re­duces the side­ways forces and makes it much less likely that your foot will sud­denly slip out from un­der you.

Walk like a pen­guin to avoid slip­pery mishaps

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