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2017


Interactive Perception: Leveraging Action in Perception and Perception in Action
Interactive Perception: Leveraging Action in Perception and Perception in Action

Bohg, J., Hausman, K., Sankaran, B., Brock, O., Kragic, D., Schaal, S., Sukhatme, G.

IEEE Transactions on Robotics, 33, pages: 1273-1291, December 2017 (article)

Abstract
Recent approaches in robotics follow the insight that perception is facilitated by interactivity with the environment. These approaches are subsumed under the term of Interactive Perception (IP). We argue that IP provides the following benefits: (i) any type of forceful interaction with the environment creates a new type of informative sensory signal that would otherwise not be present and (ii) any prior knowledge about the nature of the interaction supports the interpretation of the signal. This is facilitated by knowledge of the regularity in the combined space of sensory information and action parameters. The goal of this survey is to postulate this as a principle and collect evidence in support by analyzing and categorizing existing work in this area. We also provide an overview of the most important applications of Interactive Perception. We close this survey by discussing the remaining open questions. Thereby, we hope to define a field and inspire future work.

arXiv DOI Project Page [BibTex]

2017

arXiv DOI Project Page [BibTex]


Acquiring Target Stacking Skills by Goal-Parameterized Deep Reinforcement Learning
Acquiring Target Stacking Skills by Goal-Parameterized Deep Reinforcement Learning

Li, W., Bohg, J., Fritz, M.

arXiv, November 2017 (article) Submitted

Abstract
Understanding physical phenomena is a key component of human intelligence and enables physical interaction with previously unseen environments. In this paper, we study how an artificial agent can autonomously acquire this intuition through interaction with the environment. We created a synthetic block stacking environment with physics simulation in which the agent can learn a policy end-to-end through trial and error. Thereby, we bypass to explicitly model physical knowledge within the policy. We are specifically interested in tasks that require the agent to reach a given goal state that may be different for every new trial. To this end, we propose a deep reinforcement learning framework that learns policies which are parametrized by a goal. We validated the model on a toy example navigating in a grid world with different target positions and in a block stacking task with different target structures of the final tower. In contrast to prior work, our policies show better generalization across different goals.

arXiv [BibTex]


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Event-based State Estimation: An Emulation-based Approach

Trimpe, S.

IET Control Theory & Applications, 11(11):1684-1693, July 2017 (article)

Abstract
An event-based state estimation approach for reducing communication in a networked control system is proposed. Multiple distributed sensor agents observe a dynamic process and sporadically transmit their measurements to estimator agents over a shared bus network. Local event-triggering protocols ensure that data is transmitted only when necessary to meet a desired estimation accuracy. The event-based design is shown to emulate the performance of a centralised state observer design up to guaranteed bounds, but with reduced communication. The stability results for state estimation are extended to the distributed control system that results when the local estimates are used for feedback control. Results from numerical simulations and hardware experiments illustrate the effectiveness of the proposed approach in reducing network communication.

arXiv Supplementary material PDF DOI Project Page [BibTex]


Probabilistic Articulated Real-Time Tracking for Robot Manipulation
Probabilistic Articulated Real-Time Tracking for Robot Manipulation

(Best Paper of RA-L 2017, Finalist of Best Robotic Vision Paper Award of ICRA 2017)

Garcia Cifuentes, C., Issac, J., Wüthrich, M., Schaal, S., Bohg, J.

IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters (RA-L), 2(2):577-584, April 2017 (article)

Abstract
We propose a probabilistic filtering method which fuses joint measurements with depth images to yield a precise, real-time estimate of the end-effector pose in the camera frame. This avoids the need for frame transformations when using it in combination with visual object tracking methods. Precision is achieved by modeling and correcting biases in the joint measurements as well as inaccuracies in the robot model, such as poor extrinsic camera calibration. We make our method computationally efficient through a principled combination of Kalman filtering of the joint measurements and asynchronous depth-image updates based on the Coordinate Particle Filter. We quantitatively evaluate our approach on a dataset recorded from a real robotic platform, annotated with ground truth from a motion capture system. We show that our approach is robust and accurate even under challenging conditions such as fast motion, significant and long-term occlusions, and time-varying biases. We release the dataset along with open-source code of our approach to allow for quantitative comparison with alternative approaches.

arXiv video code and dataset video PDF DOI Project Page [BibTex]


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Anticipatory Action Selection for Human-Robot Table Tennis

Wang, Z., Boularias, A., Mülling, K., Schölkopf, B., Peters, J.

Artificial Intelligence, 247, pages: 399-414, 2017, Special Issue on AI and Robotics (article)

Abstract
Abstract Anticipation can enhance the capability of a robot in its interaction with humans, where the robot predicts the humans' intention for selecting its own action. We present a novel framework of anticipatory action selection for human-robot interaction, which is capable to handle nonlinear and stochastic human behaviors such as table tennis strokes and allows the robot to choose the optimal action based on prediction of the human partner's intention with uncertainty. The presented framework is generic and can be used in many human-robot interaction scenarios, for example, in navigation and human-robot co-manipulation. In this article, we conduct a case study on human-robot table tennis. Due to the limited amount of time for executing hitting movements, a robot usually needs to initiate its hitting movement before the opponent hits the ball, which requires the robot to be anticipatory based on visual observation of the opponent's movement. Previous work on Intention-Driven Dynamics Models (IDDM) allowed the robot to predict the intended target of the opponent. In this article, we address the problem of action selection and optimal timing for initiating a chosen action by formulating the anticipatory action selection as a Partially Observable Markov Decision Process (POMDP), where the transition and observation are modeled by the \{IDDM\} framework. We present two approaches to anticipatory action selection based on the \{POMDP\} formulation, i.e., a model-free policy learning method based on Least-Squares Policy Iteration (LSPI) that employs the \{IDDM\} for belief updates, and a model-based Monte-Carlo Planning (MCP) method, which benefits from the transition and observation model by the IDDM. Experimental results using real data in a simulated environment show the importance of anticipatory action selection, and that \{POMDPs\} are suitable to formulate the anticipatory action selection problem by taking into account the uncertainties in prediction. We also show that existing algorithms for POMDPs, such as \{LSPI\} and MCP, can be applied to substantially improve the robot's performance in its interaction with humans.

DOI Project Page [BibTex]

DOI Project Page [BibTex]

2007


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Machine Learning of Motor Skills for Robotics

Peters, J.

University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA, 2007, clmc (phdthesis)

Abstract
Autonomous robots that can assist humans in situations of daily life have been a long standing vision of robotics, artificial intelligence, and cognitive sciences. A first step towards this goal is to create robots that can accomplish a multitude of different tasks, triggered by environmental context or higher level instruction. Early approaches to this goal during the heydays of artificial intelligence research in the late 1980s, however, made it clear that an approach purely based on reasoning and human insights would not be able to model all the perceptuomotor tasks that a robot should fulfill. Instead, new hope was put in the growing wake of machine learning that promised fully adaptive control algorithms which learn both by observation and trial-and-error. However, to date, learning techniques have yet to fulfill this promise as only few methods manage to scale into the high-dimensional domains of manipulator robotics, or even the new upcoming trend of humanoid robotics, and usually scaling was only achieved in precisely pre-structured domains. In this thesis, we investigate the ingredients for a general approach to motor skill learning in order to get one step closer towards human-like performance. For doing so, we study two major components for such an approach, i.e., firstly, a theoretically well-founded general approach to representing the required control structures for task representation and execution and, secondly, appropriate learning algorithms which can be applied in this setting. As a theoretical foundation, we first study a general framework to generate control laws for real robots with a particular focus on skills represented as dynamical systems in differential constraint form. We present a point-wise optimal control framework resulting from a generalization of Gauss' principle and show how various well-known robot control laws can be derived by modifying the metric of the employed cost function. The framework has been successfully applied to task space tracking control for holonomic systems for several different metrics on the anthropomorphic SARCOS Master Arm. In order to overcome the limiting requirement of accurate robot models, we first employ learning methods to find learning controllers for task space control. However, when learning to execute a redundant control problem, we face the general problem of the non-convexity of the solution space which can force the robot to steer into physically impossible configurations if supervised learning methods are employed without further consideration. This problem can be resolved using two major insights, i.e., the learning problem can be treated as locally convex and the cost function of the analytical framework can be used to ensure global consistency. Thus, we derive an immediate reinforcement learning algorithm from the expectation-maximization point of view which leads to a reward-weighted regression technique. This method can be used both for operational space control as well as general immediate reward reinforcement learning problems. We demonstrate the feasibility of the resulting framework on the problem of redundant end-effector tracking for both a simulated 3 degrees of freedom robot arm as well as for a simulated anthropomorphic SARCOS Master Arm. While learning to execute tasks in task space is an essential component to a general framework to motor skill learning, learning the actual task is of even higher importance, particularly as this issue is more frequently beyond the abilities of analytical approaches than execution. We focus on the learning of elemental tasks which can serve as the "building blocks of movement generation", called motor primitives. Motor primitives are parameterized task representations based on splines or nonlinear differential equations with desired attractor properties. While imitation learning of parameterized motor primitives is a relatively well-understood problem, the self-improvement by interaction of the system with the environment remains a challenging problem, tackled in the fourth chapter of this thesis. For pursuing this goal, we highlight the difficulties with current reinforcement learning methods, and outline both established and novel algorithms for the gradient-based improvement of parameterized policies. We compare these algorithms in the context of motor primitive learning, and show that our most modern algorithm, the Episodic Natural Actor-Critic outperforms previous algorithms by at least an order of magnitude. We demonstrate the efficiency of this reinforcement learning method in the application of learning to hit a baseball with an anthropomorphic robot arm. In conclusion, in this thesis, we have contributed a general framework for analytically computing robot control laws which can be used for deriving various previous control approaches and serves as foundation as well as inspiration for our learning algorithms. We have introduced two classes of novel reinforcement learning methods, i.e., the Natural Actor-Critic and the Reward-Weighted Regression algorithm. These algorithms have been used in order to replace the analytical components of the theoretical framework by learned representations. Evaluations have been performed on both simulated and real robot arms.

[BibTex]

2007

[BibTex]


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Relative Entropy Policy Search

Peters, J.

CLMC Technical Report: TR-CLMC-2007-2, Computational Learning and Motor Control Lab, Los Angeles, CA, 2007, clmc (techreport)

Abstract
This technical report describes a cute idea of how to create new policy search approaches. It directly relates to the Natural Actor-Critic methods but allows the derivation of one shot solutions. Future work may include the application to interesting problems.

PDF link (url) [BibTex]

PDF link (url) [BibTex]


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The new robotics - towards human-centered machines

Schaal, S.

HFSP Journal Frontiers of Interdisciplinary Research in the Life Sciences, 1(2):115-126, 2007, clmc (article)

Abstract
Research in robotics has moved away from its primary focus on industrial applications. The New Robotics is a vision that has been developed in past years by our own university and many other national and international research instiutions and addresses how increasingly more human-like robots can live among us and take over tasks where our current society has shortcomings. Elder care, physical therapy, child education, search and rescue, and general assistance in daily life situations are some of the examples that will benefit from the New Robotics in the near future. With these goals in mind, research for the New Robotics has to embrace a broad interdisciplinary approach, ranging from traditional mathematical issues of robotics to novel issues in psychology, neuroscience, and ethics. This paper outlines some of the important research problems that will need to be resolved to make the New Robotics a reality.

link (url) [BibTex]

link (url) [BibTex]


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Learning an Outlier-Robust Kalman Filter

Ting, J., Theodorou, E., Schaal, S.

CLMC Technical Report: TR-CLMC-2007-1, Los Angeles, CA, 2007, clmc (techreport)

Abstract
We introduce a modified Kalman filter that performs robust, real-time outlier detection, without the need for manual parameter tuning by the user. Systems that rely on high quality sensory data (for instance, robotic systems) can be sensitive to data containing outliers. The standard Kalman filter is not robust to outliers, and other variations of the Kalman filter have been proposed to overcome this issue. However, these methods may require manual parameter tuning, use of heuristics or complicated parameter estimation procedures. Our Kalman filter uses a weighted least squares-like approach by introducing weights for each data sample. A data sample with a smaller weight has a weaker contribution when estimating the current time step?s state. Using an incremental variational Expectation-Maximization framework, we learn the weights and system dynamics. We evaluate our Kalman filter algorithm on data from a robotic dog.

PDF [BibTex]

PDF [BibTex]

2002


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Forward models in visuomotor control

Mehta, B., Schaal, S.

J Neurophysiol, 88(2):942-53, August 2002, clmc (article)

Abstract
In recent years, an increasing number of research projects investigated whether the central nervous system employs internal models in motor control. While inverse models in the control loop can be identified more readily in both motor behavior and the firing of single neurons, providing direct evidence for the existence of forward models is more complicated. In this paper, we will discuss such an identification of forward models in the context of the visuomotor control of an unstable dynamic system, the balancing of a pole on a finger. Pole balancing imposes stringent constraints on the biological controller, as it needs to cope with the large delays of visual information processing while keeping the pole at an unstable equilibrium. We hypothesize various model-based and non-model-based control schemes of how visuomotor control can be accomplished in this task, including Smith Predictors, predictors with Kalman filters, tapped-delay line control, and delay-uncompensated control. Behavioral experiments with human participants allow exclusion of most of the hypothesized control schemes. In the end, our data support the existence of a forward model in the sensory preprocessing loop of control. As an important part of our research, we will provide a discussion of when and how forward models can be identified and also the possible pitfalls in the search for forward models in control.

link (url) [BibTex]

2002

link (url) [BibTex]


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Scalable techniques from nonparameteric statistics for real-time robot learning

Schaal, S., Atkeson, C. G., Vijayakumar, S.

Applied Intelligence, 17(1):49-60, 2002, clmc (article)

Abstract
Locally weighted learning (LWL) is a class of techniques from nonparametric statistics that provides useful representations and training algorithms for learning about complex phenomena during autonomous adaptive control of robotic systems. This paper introduces several LWL algorithms that have been tested successfully in real-time learning of complex robot tasks. We discuss two major classes of LWL, memory-based LWL and purely incremental LWL that does not need to remember any data explicitly. In contrast to the traditional belief that LWL methods cannot work well in high-dimensional spaces, we provide new algorithms that have been tested on up to 90 dimensional learning problems. The applicability of our LWL algorithms is demonstrated in various robot learning examples, including the learning of devil-sticking, pole-balancing by a humanoid robot arm, and inverse-dynamics learning for a seven and a 30 degree-of-freedom robot. In all these examples, the application of our statistical neural networks techniques allowed either faster or more accurate acquisition of motor control than classical control engineering.

link (url) [BibTex]

link (url) [BibTex]

2000


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A brachiating robot controller

Nakanishi, J., Fukuda, T., Koditschek, D. E.

IEEE Transactions on Robotics and Automation, 16(2):109-123, 2000, clmc (article)

Abstract
We report on our empirical studies of a new controller for a two-link brachiating robot. Motivated by the pendulum-like motion of an apeâ??s brachiation, we encode this task as the output of a â??target dynamical system.â? Numerical simulations indicate that the resulting controller solves a number of brachiation problems that we term the â??ladder,â? â??swing-up,â? and â??ropeâ? problems. Preliminary analysis provides some explanation for this success. The proposed controller is implemented on a physical system in our laboratory. The robot achieves behaviors including â??swing locomotionâ? and â??swing upâ? and is capable of continuous locomotion over several rungs of a ladder. We discuss a number of formal questions whose answers will be required to gain a full understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of this approach.

link (url) [BibTex]

2000

link (url) [BibTex]


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Interaction of rhythmic and discrete pattern generators in single joint movements

Sternad, D., Dean, W. J., Schaal, S.

Human Movement Science, 19(4):627-665, 2000, clmc (article)

Abstract
The study investigates a single-joint movement task that combines a translatory and cyclic component with the objective to investigate the interaction of discrete and rhythmic movement elements. Participants performed an elbow movement in the horizontal plane, oscillating at a prescribed frequency around one target and shifting to a second target upon a trigger signal, without stopping the oscillation. Analyses focused on extracting the mutual influences of the rhythmic and the discrete component of the task. Major findings are: (1) The onset of the discrete movement was confined to a limited phase window in the rhythmic cycle. (2) Its duration was influenced by the period of oscillation. (3) The rhythmic oscillation was "perturbed" by the discrete movement as indicated by phase resetting. On the basis of these results we propose a model for the coordination of discrete and rhythmic actions (K. Matsuoka, Sustained oscillations generated by mutually inhibiting neurons with adaptations, Biological Cybernetics 52 (1985) 367-376; Mechanisms of frequency and pattern control in the neural rhythm generators, Biological Cybernetics 56 (1987) 345-353). For rhythmic movements an oscillatory pattern generator is developed following models of half-center oscillations (D. Bullock, S. Grossberg, The VITE model: a neural command circuit for generating arm and articulated trajectories, in: J.A.S. Kelso, A.J. Mandel, M. F. Shlesinger (Eds.), Dynamic Patterns in Complex Systems. World Scientific. Singapore. 1988. pp. 305-326). For discrete movements a point attractor dynamics is developed close to the VITE model For each joint degree of freedom both pattern generators co-exist but exert mutual inhibition onto each other. The suggested modeling framework provides a unified account for both discrete and rhythmic movements on the basis of neuronal circuitry. Simulation results demonstrated that the effects observed in human performance can be replicated using the two pattern generators with a mutually inhibiting coupling.

link (url) [BibTex]


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Dynamics of a bouncing ball in human performance

Sternad, D., Duarte, M., Katsumata, H., Schaal, S.

Physical Review E, 63(011902):1-8, 2000, clmc (article)

Abstract
On the basis of a modified bouncing-ball model, we investigated whether human movements utilize principles of dynamic stability in their performance of a similar movement task. Stability analyses of the model provided predictions about conditions indicative of a dynamically stable period-one regime. In a series of experiments, human subjects bounced a ball rhythmically on a racket and displayed these conditions supporting that they attuned to and exploited the dynamic stability properties of the task.

link (url) [BibTex]

link (url) [BibTex]