Minimal formulation of joint motion for biomechanisms

Ajay Seth, Michael Sherman, Peter Eastman, Scott Delp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Biomechanical systems share many properties with mechanically engineered systems, and researchers have successfully employed mechanical engineering simulation software to investigate the mechanical behavior of diverse biological mechanisms, ranging from biomolecules to human joints. Unlike their man-made counterparts, however, biomechanisms rarely exhibit the simple, uncoupled, pureaxial motion that is engineered into mechanical joints such as sliders, pins, and ball-and-socket joints. Current mechanical modeling software based on internal-coordinate multibody dynamics can formulate engineered joints directly in minimal coordinates, but requires additional coordinates restricted by constraints to model more complex motions. This approach can be inefficient, inaccurate, and difficult for biomechanists to customize. Since complex motion is the rule rather than the exception in biomechanisms, the benefits of minimal coordinate modeling are not fully realized in biomedical research. Here we introduce a practical implementation for empirically-defined internal-coordinate joints, which we call "mobilizers." A mobilizer encapsulates the observations, measurement frame, and modeling requirements into a hinge specification of the permissible-motion manifold for a minimal set of internal coordinates. Mobilizers support nonlinear mappings that are mathematically equivalent to constraint manifolds but have the advantages of fewer coordinates, no constraints, and exact representation of the biomechanical motion-space - the benefits long enjoyed for internal-coordinate models of mechanical joints. Hinge matrices within the mobilizer are easily specified by user-supplied functions, and provide a direct means of mapping permissible motion derived from empirical data. We present computational results showing substantial performance and accuracy gains for mobilizers versus equivalent joints implemented with constraints. Examples of mobilizers for joints from human biomechanics and molecular dynamics are given. All methods and examples were implemented in Simbody™ - an open source multibody-dynamics solver available at

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-303
Number of pages13
JournalNonlinear Dynamics
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomechanics
  • Computer simulation
  • Internal coordinates
  • Molecular dynamics
  • Multibody dynamics
  • Skeletal modeling


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