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S. B. Godfrey, A. Altobelli, M. Rossi, A. Bicchi: “Effect of Homogenous Object Stiffness on Tri-digit Grasp Properties”, International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBC 2015), August 2015.

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This paper presents experimental findings on how humans modulate their muscle activity while grasping objects of varying levels of compliance. We hypothesize that one of the key abilities that allows humans to successfully cope with uncertainties while grasping compliant objects is the ability to modulate muscle activity to control both grasp force and stiffness in a way that is coherent with the task. To that end, subjects were recruited to perform a grasp and lift task with a tripod-grasp device with contact surfaces of variable compliance. Subjects performed the task under four different compliance conditions while surface EMG from the main finger flexor and extensor muscles was recorded along with force and torque data at the contact points. Significant increases in the extensor muscle (the antagonist in the task) and co-contraction levels were found with increasing compliance at the contact points. These results suggest that the motor system may employ a strategy of increasing cocontraction, and thereby stiffness, to counteract the decreased stability in grasping compliant objects. Future experiments will examine the extent to which this phenomenon is also related to specific task features, such as precision versus power grasp and object weight.