Stefan Schaal is Professor of Computer Science, Neuroscience, and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California, and a Founding Director of the Max-Planck-Insitute for Intelligent Systems in Tuebingen, Germany. He is also an Invited Researcher at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratory in Japan, where he held an appointment as Head of the Computational Learning Group during an international ERATO project, the Kawato Dynamic Brain Project (ERATO/JST). Before joining USC, Dr. Schaal was a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, an Invited Researcher at the ATR Human Information Processing Research Laboratories in Japan, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and at the Department of Kinesiology of the Pennsylvania State University.
Dr. Schaal's research interests include topics of statistical and machine learning, neural networks, computational neuroscience, functional brain imaging, nonlinear dynamics, nonlinear control theory, and biomimetic robotics. He applies his research to problems of artificial and biological motor control and motor learning, focusing on both theoretical investigations and experiments with human subjects and anthropomorphic robot equipment.
Dr. Schaal has co-authored over 300 papers in refereed journals and conferences. He is a co-founder of the "IEEE/RAS International Conference and Humanoid Robotics", and a co-founder of "Robotics Science and Systems", a highly selective new conference featuring the best work in robotics every year. Dr. Schaal served as Program Chair at these conferences and he was the Program Chair of "Simulated and Adaptive Behavior" (SAB 2004) and the "IEEE/RAS International Conference on Robotics and Automation" (ICRA 2008), the largest robotics conference in the world. Dr. Schaal is has also been an Area Chair at "Neural Information Processing Systems" (NIPS) and served as Program Committee Member of the "International Conference on Machine Learning" (ICML). Dr. Schaal serves on the editorial board of the journals "Neural Networks", "International Journal of Humanoid Robotics", and "Frontiers in Neurorobotics". Dr. Schaal is a member of the German National Academic Foundation (Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes), the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Society For Neuroscience, the Society for Neural Control of Movement, the IEEE, and AAAS.
IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters (RA-L), 2(2):577-584, April 2017 (article)
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.
The International Journal of Robotics Research, 35(14):1731-1749, December 2016 (article)
The Gaussian Filter (GF) is one of the most widely used filtering algorithms; instances are the Extended Kalman Filter, the Unscented Kalman Filter and the Divided Difference Filter. The GF represents the belief of the current state by a Gaussian distribution, whose mean is an affine function of the measurement. We show that this representation can be too restrictive to accurately capture the dependences in systems with nonlinear observation models, and we investigate how the GF can be generalized to alleviate this problem. To this end, we view the GF as the solution to a constrained optimization problem. From this new perspective, the GF is seen as a special case of a much broader class of filters, obtained by relaxing the constraint on the form of the approximate posterior. On this basis, we outline some conditions which potential generalizations have to satisfy in order to maintain the computational efficiency of the GF. We propose one concrete generalization which corresponds to the standard GF using a pseudo measurement instead of the actual measurement. Extending an existing GF implementation in this manner is trivial. Nevertheless, we show that this small change can have a major impact on the estimation accuracy.
Proceedings of the IEEE/RSJ Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, IEEE, IROS, October 2016 (conference)
One of the central tasks for a household robot is searching for specific objects. It does not only require localizing the target object but also identifying promising search locations in the scene if the target is not immediately visible. As computation time and hardware resources are usually limited in robotics, it is desirable to avoid expensive visual processing steps that are exhaustively applied over the entire image. The human visual system can quickly select those image locations that have to be processed in detail for a given task. This allows us to cope with huge amounts of information and to efficiently deploy the limited capacities of our visual system. In this paper, we therefore propose to use human fixation data to train a top-down saliency model that predicts relevant image locations when searching for specific objects. We show that the learned model can successfully prune bounding box proposals without rejecting the ground truth object locations. In this aspect, the proposed model outperforms a model that is trained only on the ground truth segmentations of the target object instead of fixation data.
IEEE Transactions on Robotics, April 2016 (article) Submitted
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.
In Proceedings of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) 2016, IEEE, IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, May 2016 (inproceedings)
To achieve accurate vision-based control with a robotic arm, a good hand-eye coordination is required. However, knowing the current configuration of the arm can be very difficult due to noisy readings from joint encoders or an inaccurate hand-eye calibration. We propose an approach for robot arm pose estimation that uses depth images of the arm as input to directly estimate angular joint positions. This is a frame-by-frame method which does not rely on good initialisation of the solution from the previous frames or knowledge from the joint encoders. For estimation, we employ a random regression forest which is trained on synthetically generated data. We compare different training objectives of the forest and also analyse the influence of prior segmentation of the arms on accuracy. We show that this approach improves previous work both in terms of computational complexity and accuracy. Despite being trained on synthetic data only, we demonstrate that the estimation also works on real depth images.
Our goal is to understand the principles of Perception, Action and Learning in autonomous systems that successfully interact with complex environments and to use this understanding to design future systems