OpenSim simulates human movement with robotics

Stanford researchers have developed an open-source, human-inspired robotics technology that simulates human movement and can be scaled to match individual body sizes, ages and genders.

The technology, known as OpenSim, is now on display at the Leonardo Technology Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah.


The OpenSim technology simulates human movement.
(Courtesy of Scott Delp and Edith Arnold)

OpenSim simulates muscle motion in a similar way to popular animations of people in movies or in video games. Its muscular-skeletal simulations differ from other virtual worlds as they are based on interdisciplinary developments in math, physics, anatomy and physiology. Because the software requires extensive knowledge of these fields, it is targeted toward biomechanical scientists, clinicians and other developers.

Professor of orthopedic surgery Scott Delp developed OpenSim in 2007. He said his long-term goal is to create simulation tools that could be applied to address important clinical problems.

Delp developed the project as part of SimTK, an online host for software from the National Institute of Health’s Center for Biomedical Computation at Stanford (SimBios),which allotted money to fund the OpenSim project.

According to Delp, one of the researchers’ objectives was to “help biomedical researchers understand biological form and function as they create novel drugs, synthetic tissues, medical devices and surgical interventions.”

Scientists have already used the tool to benefit patients. For example, researchers used OpenSim to estimate how knee and hip joints are loaded during everyday movements.

“This helped us understand how osteoarthritis [abnormal and accelerated degeneration of the cartilage in the joint] develops and determine better ways to prevent it,” wrote OpenSim product manager Jennifer Hicks in an email to The Daily.

Delp and his associates created OpenSim to act as a middleman between the large quantities of data, biomechanical simulation and later medical application.

He said the project aims “to provide a platform on which the biomechanics community can build tools that help uncover the principles that govern human movement and design better treatments for individuals with physical disabilities.”

“We can then make predictions and compare these predictions to reality,” Hicks added.

Although OpenSim allows researchers to share data more freely, Hicks warned against calling it open source.

“We plan to become truly open source by the definitions of the Open Source Initiative in the coming months,” she said. “Since the software is free, it is also great to use in teaching and workshops since students don’t have to pay for using the software.”

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