The Role of Reflexes Versus Central Pattern Generators

Animals execute locomotor behaviors and more with ease. They have evolved these breath-taking abilities over millions of years. Cheetahs can run, dolphins can swim and flies can fly like no artificial technology can. It is often argued that if human technology could mimic nature, then biological-like performance would follow. Unfortunately, the blind copying or mimicking of a part of nature [Ritzmann et al., 2000] does not often lead to the best design for a variety of reasons [Vogel, 1998]. Evolution works on the “just good enough” principle. Optimal designs are not the necessary end product of evolution. Multiple satisfactory solutions can result in similar performances. Animals do bring to our attention amazing designs, but these designs carry with them the baggage of their history. Moreover, natural design is constrained by factors that may have no relationship to human engineered designs. Animals must be able to grow over time, but still function along the way. Finally, animals are complex and their parts serve multiple functions, not simply the one we happen to examine. In short, in their daunting complexity and integrated function, understanding animal behaviors remains as intractable as their capabilities are tantalizing.