Humans have the inherent ability of performing highly dexterous and skillful tasks with their arms, involving maintenance of posture, movement, and interaction with the environment. The latter requires the human to control the dynamic characteristics of the upper limb musculoskeletal system. These characteristics are quantitatively represented by inertia, damping, and stiffness, which are measures of mechanical impedance. Many previous studies have shown that arm posture is a dominant factor in determining the end point impedance on a horizontal (transverse) plane. This paper presents the characterization of the end point impedance of the human arm in three-dimensional space. Moreover, it models the regulation of the arm impedance with respect to various levels of muscle co-contraction. The characterization is made by route of experimental trials where human subjects maintained arm posture while their arms were perturbed by a robot arm. Furthermore, the subjects were asked to control the level of their arm muscles’ co-contraction, using visual feedback of their muscles’ activation, in order to investigate the effect of this muscle co-contraction on the arm impedance. The results of this study show a very interesting, anisotropic increase of arm stiffness due to muscle co-contraction. These results could lead to very useful conclusions about the human’s arm biomechanics, as well as many implications for human motor control-specifically the control of arm impedance through muscle co-contraction.

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