Science in Motion

The computational models that Seethapathi builds in her lab aim to predict how humans will move under different conditions. If a person is placed in an unfamiliar environment and asked to navigate a course under time pressure, what path will they take? How will they move their limbs, and what forces will they exert? How will their movements change as they become more comfortable on the terrain?

Seethapathi uses the principles of robotics to build models that answer these questions, then tests them by placing real people in the same scenarios and monitoring their movements. Currently, most of these tests take place in her lab, where subjects are often limited to simple tasks like walking on a treadmill. As she expands her models to predict more complex movements, she will begin monitoring people’s activity in the real world, over longer time periods than laboratory experiments typically allow. Ultimately, Seethapathi hopes her findings will inform the way doctors, therapists, and engineers help patients regain control over their movements after an injury or due to a movement disorder.