The Robotics Institute
RI | Seminar | November 21

Robotics Institute Seminar, November 21
Time and Place | Seminar Abstract | Speaker Biographies | Speaker Appointments

Behavioral Dynamics of Human Locomotor Paths

William H. Warren
Dept. of Cognitive & Linguistic Sciences
Brown University

Time and Place

Mauldin Auditorium (NSH 1305)
Refreshments 3:15 pm
Talk 3:30 pm


Humans, animals, robots, and animators all face a similar problem: how to generate paths of locomotion through complex changing environments. I argue that locomotor paths are not explicitly planned, but emerge from local interactions between an agent and a structured environment. I will describe an empirical model of steering and obstacle avoidance that accounts for locomotor path formation in humans.

Locomotor behavior is composed of four elementary components: (a) steering toward a stationary goal, (b) avoiding a stationary obstacle, (c) intercepting a moving target, and (d) avoiding a moving obstacle. Based on experiments in an immersive virtual environment, we developed a dynamical model of each component that generates realistic locomotor paths. Goals behave as attractors of the current direction of heading, whereas obstacles behave as repellers; moving targets are intercepted by nulling the change in the target-heading angle, and moving obstacles are avoided by treating this null point as a repeller. These basic components can be linearly combined to predict human routes in more complex environments.

The results demonstrate that locomotor path formation can be understood as emergent behavior that arises from interactions between a structured environment and an inertial agent with a few simple control laws, making explicit path planning unnecessary. The model may also be used to generate biologically realistic locomotor paths.

Speaker Biographies

Bill Warren is Chair of the Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences at Brown University. He is also co-director of the Virtual Environment Navigation Lab, the largest immersive VE in the known universe for the next 15 min. His research focuses on the perceptual control of human action, including optic flow and the control of locomotion, path integration, and visual navigation, as well as such feats as bouncing a ball on a racquet, catching fly balls, and infant bouncing. He is the recipient of a Fulbright research fellowship, an NIH Research Career Development Award, and Brown's teaching award in the Life Sciences.

Speaker Appointments

Please contact Ruth Gaus ( for appointments.

The Robotics Institute is part of the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University.