Learned parametrized dynamic movement primitives with shared synergies for controlling robotic and musculoskeletal systems

Elmar Rückert, Andrea d'Avella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A salient feature of human motor skill learning is the ability to exploit similarities across related tasks. In biological motor control, it has been hypothesized that muscle synergies, coherent activations of groups of muscles, allow for exploiting shared knowledge. Recent studies have shown that a rich set of complex motor skills can be generated by a combination of a small number of muscle synergies. In robotics, dynamic movement primitives are commonly used for motor skill learning. This machine learning approach implements a stable attractor system that facilitates learning and it can be used in high-dimensional continuous spaces. However, it does not allow for reusing shared knowledge, i.e., for each task an individual set of parameters has to be learned. We propose a novel movement primitive representation that employs parametrized basis functions, which combines the benefits of muscle synergies and dynamic movement primitives. For each task a superposition of synergies modulates a stable attractor system. This approach leads to a compact representation of multiple motor skills and at the same time enables efficient learning in high-dimensional continuous systems. The movement representation supports discrete and rhythmic movements and in particular includes the dynamic movement primitive approach as a special case. We demonstrate the feasibility of the movement representation in three multi-task learning simulated scenarios. First, the characteristics of the proposed representation are illustrated in a point-mass task. Second, in complex humanoid walking experiments, multiple walking patterns with different step heights are learned robustly and efficiently. Finally, in a multi-directional reaching task simulated with a musculoskeletal model of the human arm, we show how the proposed movement primitives can be used to learn appropriate muscle excitation patterns and to generalize effectively to new reaching skills.

Original languageEnglish
Article number138
JournalFrontiers in Computational Neuroscience
Issue numberOCT
Publication statusPublished - Oct 17 2013


  • Dynamic movement primitives
  • Motor control
  • Muscle synergies
  • Musculoskeletal model
  • Reinforcement learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Learned parametrized dynamic movement primitives with shared synergies for controlling robotic and musculoskeletal systems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this