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Muhammad Zahid, Florian T. Pokorny

We present CloudGripper, an open source cloud robotics testbed, consisting of a scalable, space and cost-efficient design constructed as a rack of 32 small robot arm work cells. Each robot work cell is fully enclosed and features individual lighting, a low-cost custom 5 degree of freedom Cartesian robot arm with an attached parallel jaw gripper and a dual camera setup for experimentation. The system design is focused on continuous operation and features a 10 Gbit/s network connectivity allowing for high throughput remote-controlled experimentation and data collection for robotic manipulation. CloudGripper furthermore is intended to form a community testbed to study the challenges of large scale machine learning and cloud and edge-computing in the context of robotic manipulation. In this work, we describe the mechanical design of the system, its initial software stack and evaluate the repeatability of motions executed by the proposed robot arm design. A local network API throughput and latency analysis is also provided. CloudGripper-Rope-100, a dataset of more than a hundred hours of randomized rope pushing interactions and approximately 4 million camera images is collected and serves as a proof of concept demonstrating data collection capabilities. A project website with more information is available at https://cloudgripper.org.

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Yifei Dong, Florian T. Pokorny

We present a sampling-based approach to reasoning about the caging-based manipulation of rigid and a simplified class of deformable 3D objects subject to energy constraints. Towards this end, we propose the notion of soft fixtures extending earlier work on energy-bounded caging to include a broader set of energy function constraints and settings, such as gravitational and elastic potential energy of 3D deformable objects. Previous methods focused on establishing provably correct algorithms to compute lower bounds or analytically exact estimates of escape energy for a very restricted class of known objects with low-dimensional C-spaces, such as planar polygons. We instead propose a practical sampling-based approach that is applicable in higher-dimensional C-spaces but only produces a sequence of upper-bound estimates that, however, appear to converge rapidly to actual escape energy. We present 8 simulation experiments demonstrating the applicability of our approach to various complex quasi-static manipulation scenarios. Quantitative results indicate the effectiveness of our approach in providing upper-bound estimates for escape energy in quasi-static manipulation scenarios. Two real-world experiments also show that the computed normalized escape energy estimates appear to correlate strongly with the probability of escape of an object under randomized pose perturbation.

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Alexander Kravberg, Giovanni Luca Marchetti, Vladislav Polianskii, Anastasiia Varava, Florian T. Pokorny, Danica Kragic

We introduce an algorithm for active function approximation based on nearest neighbor regression. Our Active Nearest Neighbor Regressor (ANNR) relies on the Voronoi-Delaunay framework from computational geometry to subdivide the space into cells with constant estimated function value and select novel query points in a way that takes the geometry of the function graph into account. We consider the recent state-of-the-art active function approximator called DEFER, which is based on incremental rectangular partitioning of the space, as the main baseline. The ANNR addresses a number of limitations that arise from the space subdivision strategy used in DEFER. We provide a computationally efficient implementation of our method, as well as theoretical halting guarantees. Empirical results show that ANNR outperforms the baseline for both closed-form functions and real-world examples, such as gravitational wave parameter inference and exploration of the latent space of a generative model.

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Jay Kamat, Joaquim Ortiz-Haro, Marc Toussaint, Florian T. Pokorny, Andreas Orthey

Optimal sampling based motion planning and trajectory optimization are two competing frameworks to generate optimal motion plans. Both frameworks have complementary properties: Sampling based planners are typically slow to converge, but provide optimality guarantees. Trajectory optimizers, however, are typically fast to converge, but do not provide global optimality guarantees in nonconvex problems, e.g. scenarios with obstacles. To achieve the best of both worlds, we introduce a new planner, BITKOMO, which integrates the asymptotically optimal Batch Informed Trees (BIT*) planner with the K-Order Markov Optimization (KOMO) trajectory optimization framework. Our planner is anytime and maintains the same asymptotic optimality guarantees provided by BIT*, while also exploiting the fast convergence of the KOMO trajectory optimizer. We experimentally evaluate our planner on manipulation scenarios that involve high dimensional configuration spaces, with up to two 7-DoF manipulators, obstacles and narrow passages. BITKOMO performs better than KOMO by succeeding even when KOMO fails, and it outperforms BIT* in terms of convergence to the optimal solution.

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Andreas Orthey, Florian T. Pokorny, Marc Toussaint

In this extended abstract, we report on ongoing work towards an approximate multimodal optimization algorithm with asymptotic guarantees. Multimodal optimization is the problem of finding all local optimal solutions (modes) to a path optimization problem. This is important to compress path databases, as contingencies for replanning and as source of symbolic representations. Following ideas from Morse theory, we define modes as paths invariant under optimization of a cost functional. We develop a multi-mode estimation algorithm which approximately finds all modes of a given motion optimization problem and asymptotically converges. This is made possible by integrating sparse roadmaps with an existing single-mode optimization algorithm. Initial evaluation results show the multi-mode estimation algorithm as a promising direction to study path spaces from a topological point of view.

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Anastasiia Varava, J. Frederico Carvalho, Danica Kragic, Florian T. Pokorny

In this work we propose algorithms to explicitly construct a conservative estimate of the configuration spaces of rigid objects in 2D and 3D. Our approach is able to detect compact path components and narrow passages in configuration space which are important for applications in robotic manipulation and path planning. Moreover, as we demonstrate, they are also applicable to identification of molecular cages in chemistry. Our algorithms are based on a decomposition of the resulting 3 and 6 dimensional configuration spaces into slices corresponding to a finite sample of fixed orientations in configuration space. We utilize dual diagrams of unions of balls and uniform grids of orientations to approximate the configuration space. We carry out experiments to evaluate the computational efficiency on a set of objects with different geometric features thus demonstrating that our approach is applicable to different object shapes. We investigate the performance of our algorithm by computing increasingly fine-grained approximations of the object's configuration space.

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Anastasiia Varava, J. Frederico Carvalho, Danica Kragic, Florian T. Pokorny

In this paper, we compute a conservative approximation of the path-connected components of the free space of a rigid object in a 2D workspace in order to solve two closely related problems: to determine whether there exists a collision-free path between two given configurations, and to verify whether an object can escape arbitrarily far from its initial configuration -- i.e., whether the object is caged. Furthermore, we consider two quantitative characteristics of the free space: the volume of path-connected components and the width of narrow passages. To address these problems, we decompose the configuration space into a set of two-dimensional slices, approximate them as two-dimensional alpha-complexes, and then study the relations between them. This significantly reduces the computational complexity compared to a direct approximation of the free space. We implement our algorithm and run experiments in a three-dimensional configuration space of a simple object showing runtime of less than 2 seconds.

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Florian T. Pokorny, Yasemin Bekiroglu, Karl Pauwels, Judith Bütepage, Clara Scherer, Danica Kragic

We present a novel approach and database which combines the inexpensive generation of 3D object models via monocular or RGB-D camera images with 3D printing and a state of the art object tracking algorithm. Unlike recent efforts towards the creation of 3D object databases for robotics, our approach does not require expensive and controlled 3D scanning setups and enables anyone with a camera to scan, print and track complex objects for manipulation research. The proposed approach results in highly detailed mesh models whose 3D printed replicas are at times difficult to distinguish from the original. A key motivation for utilizing 3D printed objects is the ability to precisely control and vary object properties such as the mass distribution and size in the 3D printing process to obtain reproducible conditions for robotic manipulation research. We present CapriDB - an extensible database resulting from this approach containing initially 40 textured and 3D printable mesh models together with tracking features to facilitate the adoption of the proposed approach.

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Majd Hawasly, Florian T. Pokorny, Subramanian Ramamoorthy

Autonomous robots operating in dynamic environments must maintain beliefs over a hypothesis space that is rich enough to represent the activities of interest at different scales. This is important both in order to accommodate the availability of evidence at varying degrees of coarseness, such as when interpreting and assimilating natural instructions, but also in order to make subsequent reactive planning more efficient. We present an algorithm that combines a topology-based trajectory clustering procedure that generates hierarchically-structured spatial abstractions with a bank of particle filters at each of these abstraction levels so as to produce probability estimates over an agent's navigation activity that is kept consistent across the hierarchy. We study the performance of the proposed method using a synthetic trajectory dataset in 2D, as well as a dataset taken from AIS-based tracking of ships in an extended harbour area. We show that, in comparison to a baseline which is a particle filter that estimates activity without exploiting such structure, our method achieves a better normalised error in predicting the trajectory as well as better time to convergence to a true class when compared against ground truth.

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Sanjay Krishnan, Animesh Garg, Richard Liaw, Lauren Miller, Florian T. Pokorny, Ken Goldberg

Reinforcement Learning (RL) struggles in problems with delayed rewards, and one approach is to segment the task into sub-tasks with incremental rewards. We propose a framework called Hierarchical Inverse Reinforcement Learning (HIRL), which is a model for learning sub-task structure from demonstrations. HIRL decomposes the task into sub-tasks based on transitions that are consistent across demonstrations. These transitions are defined as changes in local linearity w.r.t to a kernel function. Then, HIRL uses the inferred structure to learn reward functions local to the sub-tasks but also handle any global dependencies such as sequentiality. We have evaluated HIRL on several standard RL benchmarks: Parallel Parking with noisy dynamics, Two-Link Pendulum, 2D Noisy Motion Planning, and a Pinball environment. In the parallel parking task, we find that rewards constructed with HIRL converge to a policy with an 80% success rate in 32% fewer time-steps than those constructed with Maximum Entropy Inverse RL (MaxEnt IRL), and with partial state observation, the policies learned with IRL fail to achieve this accuracy while HIRL still converges. We further find that that the rewards learned with HIRL are robust to environment noise where they can tolerate 1 stdev. of random perturbation in the poses in the environment obstacles while maintaining roughly the same convergence rate. We find that HIRL rewards can converge up-to 6x faster than rewards constructed with IRL.

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