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2013


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3-D Object Reconstruction of Symmetric Objects by Fusing Visual and Tactile Sensing

Illonen, J., Bohg, J., Kyrki, V.

The International Journal of Robotics Research, 33(2):321-341, Sage, October 2013 (article)

Abstract
In this work, we propose to reconstruct a complete 3-D model of an unknown object by fusion of visual and tactile information while the object is grasped. Assuming the object is symmetric, a first hypothesis of its complete 3-D shape is generated. A grasp is executed on the object with a robotic manipulator equipped with tactile sensors. Given the detected contacts between the fingers and the object, the initial full object model including the symmetry parameters can be refined. This refined model will then allow the planning of more complex manipulation tasks. The main contribution of this work is an optimal estimation approach for the fusion of visual and tactile data applying the constraint of object symmetry. The fusion is formulated as a state estimation problem and solved with an iterative extended Kalman filter. The approach is validated experimentally using both artificial and real data from two different robotic platforms.

Web DOI Project Page [BibTex]

2013

Web DOI Project Page [BibTex]


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Optimal control of reaching includes kinematic constraints

Mistry, M., Theodorou, E., Schaal, S., Kawato, M.

Journal of Neurophysiology, 2013, clmc (article)

Abstract
We investigate adaptation under a reaching task with an acceleration-based force field perturbation designed to alter the nominal straight hand trajectory in a potentially benign manner:pushing the hand of course in one direction before subsequently restoring towards the target. In this particular task, an explicit strategy to reduce motor effort requires a distinct deviation from the nominal rectilinear hand trajectory. Rather, our results display a clear directional preference during learning, as subjects adapted perturbed curved trajectories towards their initial baselines. We model this behavior using the framework of stochastic optimal control theory and an objective function that trades-of the discordant requirements of 1) target accuracy, 2) motor effort, and 3) desired trajectory. Our work addresses the underlying objective of a reaching movement, and we suggest that robustness, particularly against internal model uncertainly, is as essential to the reaching task as terminal accuracy and energy effciency.

PDF [BibTex]

PDF [BibTex]


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Dynamical Movement Primitives: Learning Attractor Models for Motor Behaviors

Ijspeert, A., Nakanishi, J., Pastor, P., Hoffmann, H., Schaal, S.

Neural Computation, (25):328-373, 2013, clmc (article)

Abstract
Nonlinear dynamical systems have been used in many disciplines to model complex behaviors, including biological motor control, robotics, perception, economics, traffic prediction, and neuroscience. While often the unexpected emergent behavior of nonlinear systems is the focus of investigations, it is of equal importance to create goal-directed behavior (e.g., stable locomotion from a system of coupled oscillators under perceptual guidance). Modeling goal-directed behavior with nonlinear systems is, however, rather difficult due to the parameter sensitivity of these systems, their complex phase transitions in response to subtle parameter changes, and the difficulty of analyzing and predicting their long-term behavior; intuition and time-consuming parameter tuning play a major role. This letter presents and reviews dynamical movement primitives, a line of research for modeling attractor behaviors of autonomous nonlinear dynamical systems with the help of statistical learning techniques. The essence of our approach is to start with a simple dynamical system, such as a set of linear differential equations, and transform those into a weakly nonlinear system with prescribed attractor dynamics by meansof a learnable autonomous forcing term. Both point attractors and limit cycle attractors of almost arbitrary complexity can be generated. We explain the design principle of our approach and evaluate its properties in several example applications in motor control and robotics.

link (url) [BibTex]

link (url) [BibTex]


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Optimal distribution of contact forces with inverse-dynamics control

Righetti, L., Buchli, J., Mistry, M., Kalakrishnan, M., Schaal, S.

The International Journal of Robotics Research, 32(3):280-298, March 2013 (article)

Abstract
The development of legged robots for complex environments requires controllers that guarantee both high tracking performance and compliance with the environment. More specifically the control of the contact interaction with the environment is of crucial importance to ensure stable, robust and safe motions. In this contribution we develop an inverse-dynamics controller for floating-base robots under contact constraints that can minimize any combination of linear and quadratic costs in the contact constraints and the commands. Our main result is the exact analytical derivation of the controller. Such a result is particularly relevant for legged robots as it allows us to use torque redundancy to directly optimize contact interactions. For example, given a desired locomotion behavior, we can guarantee the minimization of contact forces to reduce slipping on difficult terrains while ensuring high tracking performance of the desired motion. The main advantages of the controller are its simplicity, computational efficiency and robustness to model inaccuracies. We present detailed experimental results on simulated humanoid and quadruped robots as well as a real quadruped robot. The experiments demonstrate that the controller can greatly improve the robustness of locomotion of the robots.1

link (url) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [BibTex]

2008


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Learning to control in operational space

Peters, J., Schaal, S.

International Journal of Robotics Research, 27, pages: 197-212, 2008, clmc (article)

Abstract
One of the most general frameworks for phrasing control problems for complex, redundant robots is operational space control. However, while this framework is of essential importance for robotics and well-understood from an analytical point of view, it can be prohibitively hard to achieve accurate control in face of modeling errors, which are inevitable in com- plex robots, e.g., humanoid robots. In this paper, we suggest a learning approach for opertional space control as a direct inverse model learning problem. A first important insight for this paper is that a physically cor- rect solution to the inverse problem with redundant degrees-of-freedom does exist when learning of the inverse map is performed in a suitable piecewise linear way. The second crucial component for our work is based on the insight that many operational space controllers can be understood in terms of a constrained optimal control problem. The cost function as- sociated with this optimal control problem allows us to formulate a learn- ing algorithm that automatically synthesizes a globally consistent desired resolution of redundancy while learning the operational space controller. From the machine learning point of view, this learning problem corre- sponds to a reinforcement learning problem that maximizes an immediate reward. We employ an expectation-maximization policy search algorithm in order to solve this problem. Evaluations on a three degrees of freedom robot arm are used to illustrate the suggested approach. The applica- tion to a physically realistic simulator of the anthropomorphic SARCOS Master arm demonstrates feasibility for complex high degree-of-freedom robots. We also show that the proposed method works in the setting of learning resolved motion rate control on real, physical Mitsubishi PA-10 medical robotics arm.

link (url) DOI [BibTex]

2008

link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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Adaptation to a sub-optimal desired trajectory

M. Mistry, E. A. G. L. T. Y. S. S. M. K.

Advances in Computational Motor Control VII, Symposium at the Society for Neuroscience Meeting, Washington DC, 2008, 2008, clmc (article)

PDF [BibTex]

PDF [BibTex]


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Operational space control: A theoretical and emprical comparison

Nakanishi, J., Cory, R., Mistry, M., Peters, J., Schaal, S.

International Journal of Robotics Research, 27(6):737-757, 2008, clmc (article)

Abstract
Dexterous manipulation with a highly redundant movement system is one of the hallmarks of hu- man motor skills. From numerous behavioral studies, there is strong evidence that humans employ compliant task space control, i.e., they focus control only on task variables while keeping redundant degrees-of-freedom as compliant as possible. This strategy is robust towards unknown disturbances and simultaneously safe for the operator and the environment. The theory of operational space con- trol in robotics aims to achieve similar performance properties. However, despite various compelling theoretical lines of research, advanced operational space control is hardly found in actual robotics imple- mentations, in particular new kinds of robots like humanoids and service robots, which would strongly profit from compliant dexterous manipulation. To analyze the pros and cons of different approaches to operational space control, this paper focuses on a theoretical and empirical evaluation of different methods that have been suggested in the literature, but also some new variants of operational space controllers. We address formulations at the velocity, acceleration and force levels. First, we formulate all controllers in a common notational framework, including quaternion-based orientation control, and discuss some of their theoretical properties. Second, we present experimental comparisons of these approaches on a seven-degree-of-freedom anthropomorphic robot arm with several benchmark tasks. As an aside, we also introduce a novel parameter estimation algorithm for rigid body dynamics, which ensures physical consistency, as this issue was crucial for our successful robot implementations. Our extensive empirical results demonstrate that one of the simplified acceleration-based approaches can be advantageous in terms of task performance, ease of parameter tuning, and general robustness and compliance in face of inevitable modeling errors.

link (url) [BibTex]

link (url) [BibTex]


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A library for locally weighted projection regression

Klanke, S., Vijayakumar, S., Schaal, S.

Journal of Machine Learning Research, 9, pages: 623-626, 2008, clmc (article)

Abstract
In this paper we introduce an improved implementation of locally weighted projection regression (LWPR), a supervised learning algorithm that is capable of handling high-dimensional input data. As the key features, our code supports multi-threading, is available for multiple platforms, and provides wrappers for several programming languages.

link (url) [BibTex]

link (url) [BibTex]


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Optimization strategies in human reinforcement learning

Hoffmann, H., Theodorou, E., Schaal, S.

Advances in Computational Motor Control VII, Symposium at the Society for Neuroscience Meeting, Washington DC, 2008, 2008, clmc (article)

PDF [BibTex]

PDF [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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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]

2003


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Computational approaches to motor learning by imitation

Schaal, S., Ijspeert, A., Billard, A.

Philosophical Transaction of the Royal Society of London: Series B, Biological Sciences, 358(1431):537-547, 2003, clmc (article)

Abstract
Movement imitation requires a complex set of mechanisms that map an observed movement of a teacher onto one's own movement apparatus. Relevant problems include movement recognition, pose estimation, pose tracking, body correspondence, coordinate transformation from external to egocentric space, matching of observed against previously learned movement, resolution of redundant degrees-of-freedom that are unconstrained by the observation, suitable movement representations for imitation, modularization of motor control, etc. All of these topics by themselves are active research problems in computational and neurobiological sciences, such that their combination into a complete imitation system remains a daunting undertaking - indeed, one could argue that we need to understand the complete perception-action loop. As a strategy to untangle the complexity of imitation, this paper will examine imitation purely from a computational point of view, i.e. we will review statistical and mathematical approaches that have been suggested for tackling parts of the imitation problem, and discuss their merits, disadvantages and underlying principles. Given the focus on action recognition of other contributions in this special issue, this paper will primarily emphasize the motor side of imitation, assuming that a perceptual system has already identified important features of a demonstrated movement and created their corresponding spatial information. Based on the formalization of motor control in terms of control policies and their associated performance criteria, useful taxonomies of imitation learning can be generated that clarify different approaches and future research directions.

link (url) [BibTex]

2003

link (url) [BibTex]

1999


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Is imitation learning the route to humanoid robots?

Schaal, S.

Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 3(6):233-242, 1999, clmc (article)

Abstract
This review will focus on two recent developments in artificial intelligence and neural computation: learning from imitation and the development of humanoid robots. It will be postulated that the study of imitation learning offers a promising route to gain new insights into mechanisms of perceptual motor control that could ultimately lead to the creation of autonomous humanoid robots. This hope is justified because imitation learning channels research efforts towards three important issues: efficient motor learning, the connection between action and perception, and modular motor control in form of movement primitives. In order to make these points, first, a brief review of imitation learning will be given from the view of psychology and neuroscience. In these fields, representations and functional connections between action and perception have been explored that contribute to the understanding of motor acts of other beings. The recent discovery that some areas in the primate brain are active during both movement perception and execution provided a first idea of the possible neural basis of imitation. Secondly, computational approaches to imitation learning will be described, initially from the perspective of traditional AI and robotics, and then with a focus on neural network models and statistical learning research. Parallels and differences between biological and computational approaches to imitation will be highlighted. The review will end with an overview of current projects that actually employ imitation learning for humanoid robots.

link (url) [BibTex]

1999

link (url) [BibTex]


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Segmentation of endpoint trajectories does not imply segmented control

Sternad, D., Schaal, D.

Experimental Brain Research, 124(1):118-136, 1999, clmc (article)

Abstract
While it is generally assumed that complex movements consist of a sequence of simpler units, the quest to define these units of action, or movement primitives, still remains an open question. In this context, two hypotheses of movement segmentation of endpoint trajectories in 3D human drawing movements are re-examined: (1) the stroke-based segmentation hypothesis based on the results that the proportionality coefficient of the 2/3 power law changes discontinuously with each new â??strokeâ?, and (2) the segmentation hypothesis inferred from the observation of piecewise planar endpoint trajectories of 3D drawing movements. In two experiments human subjects performed a set of elliptical and figure-8 patterns of different sizes and orientations using their whole arm in 3D. The kinematic characteristics of the endpoint trajectories and the seven joint angles of the arm were analyzed. While the endpoint trajectories produced similar segmentation features as reported in the literature, analyses of the joint angles show no obvious segmentation but rather continuous oscillatory patterns. By approximating the joint angle data of human subjects with sinusoidal trajectories, and by implementing this model on a 7-degree-of-freedom anthropomorphic robot arm, it is shown that such a continuous movement strategy can produce exactly the same features as observed by the above segmentation hypotheses. The origin of this apparent segmentation of endpoint trajectories is traced back to the nonlinear transformations of the forward kinematics of human arms. The presented results demonstrate that principles of discrete movement generation may not be reconciled with those of rhythmic movement as easily as has been previously suggested, while the generalization of nonlinear pattern generators to arm movements can offer an interesting alternative to approach the question of units of action.

link (url) [BibTex]

link (url) [BibTex]