A new paradigm for human stick balancing: a suspended not an inverted pendulum

Kwee-Yum Lee, Nicholas O'Dwyer, Mark Halaki, Richard Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


We studied 14 skilled subjects balancing a stick (a television antenna, 52 cm, 34 g) on their middle fingertip. Comprehensive three-dimensional analyses revealed that the movement of the finger was 1.75 times that of the stick tip, such that the balanced stick behavedmore like a normal noninverted pendulum than the inverted pendulum common to engineering models for stick balancing using motors. The average relation between the torque applied to the stick and its angle of deviation from the vertical was highly linear, consistent with simple harmonic motion. We observed clearly greater rotational movement of the stick in the anteroposterior plane than the mediolateral plane. Despite this magnitude difference, the duration of stick oscillatory cycles was very similar in both planes, again consistent with simple harmonic motion. The control parameter in balancing was the ratio of active torque applied to the stick relative to gravitational torque. It determined both the pivot point and oscillatory cycle period of the pendulum. The pivot point was located at the radius of gyration (about the centre of mass) of the stick from its centre of mass, showing that the subjects attuned to the gravitational dynamics and mass distribution of the stick. Hence, the key to controlling instability here was mastery of the physics of the unstable object. The radius of gyration may'similar to centre of mass'contribute to the kinesthesis of rotating limb segments and control of their gravitational dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-328
Number of pages20
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012


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