We present a reactive base control method that enables high performance mobile manipulation on-the-move in environments with static and dynamic obstacles. Performing manipulation tasks while the mobile base remains in motion can significantly decrease the time required to perform multi-step tasks, as well as improve the gracefulness of the robot's motion. Existing approaches to manipulation on-the-move either ignore the obstacle avoidance problem or rely on the execution of planned trajectories, which is not suitable in environments with dynamic objects and obstacles. The presented controller addresses both of these deficiencies and demonstrates robust performance of pick-and-place tasks in dynamic environments. The performance is evaluated on several simulated and real-world tasks. On a real-world task with static obstacles, we outperform an existing method by 48\% in terms of total task time. Further, we present real-world examples of our robot performing manipulation tasks on-the-move while avoiding a second autonomous robot in the workspace. See https://benburgesslimerick.github.io/MotM-BaseControl for supplementary materials.
As the complexity of robot systems increases, it becomes more effective to simulate them before deployment. To do this, a model of the robot's kinematics or dynamics is required, and the most commonly used format is the Unified Robot Description Format (URDF). This article presents, to our knowledge, the first dataset of URDF files from various industrial and research organizations, with metadata describing each robot, its type, manufacturer, and the source of the model. The dataset contains 322 URDF files of which 195 are unique robot models, meaning the excess URDFs are either of a robot that is multiply defined across sources or URDF variants of the same robot. We analyze the files in the dataset, where we, among other things, provide information on how they were generated, which mesh file types are most commonly used, and compare models of multiply defined robots. The intention of this article is to build a foundation of knowledge on URDF and how it is used based on publicly available URDF files. Publishing the dataset, analysis, and the scripts and tools used enables others using, researching or developing URDFs to easily access this data and use it in their own work.
Robotic vision for human-robot interaction and collaboration is a critical process for robots to collect and interpret detailed information related to human actions, goals, and preferences, enabling robots to provide more useful services to people. This survey and systematic review presents a comprehensive analysis on robotic vision in human-robot interaction and collaboration over the last 10 years. From a detailed search of 3850 articles, systematic extraction and evaluation was used to identify and explore 310 papers in depth. These papers described robots with some level of autonomy using robotic vision for locomotion, manipulation and/or visual communication to collaborate or interact with people. This paper provides an in-depth analysis of current trends, common domains, methods and procedures, technical processes, data sets and models, experimental testing, sample populations, performance metrics and future challenges. This manuscript found that robotic vision was often used in action and gesture recognition, robot movement in human spaces, object handover and collaborative actions, social communication and learning from demonstration. Few high-impact and novel techniques from the computer vision field had been translated into human-robot interaction and collaboration. Overall, notable advancements have been made on how to develop and deploy robots to assist people.
We present a robot base placement and control method that enables a mobile manipulator to gracefully recover from manipulation failures while performing tasks on-the-move. A mobile manipulator in motion has a limited window to complete a task, unlike when stationary where it can make repeated attempts until successful. Existing approaches to manipulation on-the-move are typically based on open-loop execution of planned trajectories which does not allow the base controller to react to manipulation failures, slowing down or stopping as required. To overcome this limitation, we present a reactive base control method that repeatedly evaluates the best base placement given the robot's current state, the immediate manipulation task, as well as the next part of a multi-step task. The result is a system that retains the reliability of traditional mobile manipulation approaches where the base comes to a stop, but leverages the performance gains available by performing manipulation on-the-move. The controller keeps the base in range of the target for as long as required to recover from manipulation failures while making as much progress as possible toward the next objective. See https://benburgesslimerick.github.io/MotM-FailureRecovery for videos of experiments.
Vision is a popular and effective sensor for robotics from which we can derive rich information about the environment: the geometry and semantics of the scene, as well as the age, gender, identity, activity and even emotional state of humans within that scene. This raises important questions about the reach, lifespan, and potential misuse of this information. This paper is a call to action to consider privacy in the context of robotic vision. We propose a specific form privacy preservation in which no images are captured or could be reconstructed by an attacker even with full remote access. We present a set of principles by which such systems can be designed, and through a case study in localisation demonstrate in simulation a specific implementation that delivers an important robotic capability in an inherently privacy-preserving manner. This is a first step, and we hope to inspire future works that expand the range of applications open to sighted robotic systems.
With the increasing complexity of robot systems, it is necessary to simulate them before deployment. To do this, a model of the robot's kinematics or dynamics is required. One of the most commonly used formats for modeling robots is the Unified Robot Description Format (URDF). The goal of this article is to understand how URDF is currently used, what challenges people face when working with it, and how the community sees the future of URDF. The outcome can potentially be used to guide future research. This article presents the results from a survey based on 510 anonymous responses from robotic developers of different backgrounds and levels of experience. We find that 96.8% of the participants have simulated robots before, and of them 95.5% had used URDF. We identify a number of challenges and limitations that complicate the use of URDF, such as the inability to model parallel linkages and closed-chain systems, no real standard, lack of documentation, and a limited number of dynamic parameters to model the robot. Future perspectives for URDF are also determined, where 53.5% believe URDF will be more commonly used in the future, 12.2% believe other standards or tools will make URDF obsolete, and 34.4% are not sure what the future of URDF will be. Most participants agree that there is a need for better tooling to ensure URDF's future use.
Finger-tip tactile sensors are increasingly used for robotic sensing to establish stable grasps and to infer object properties. Promising performance has been shown in a number of works for inferring adjectives that describe the object, but there remains a question about how each taxel contributes to the performance. This paper explores this question with empirical experiments, leading insights for future finger-tip tactile sensor usage and design.
We present a generalised architecture for reactive mobile manipulation while a robot's base is in motion toward the next objective in a high-level task. By performing tasks on-the-move, overall cycle time is reduced compared to methods where the base pauses during manipulation. Reactive control of the manipulator enables grasping objects with unpredictable motion while improving robustness against perception errors, environmental disturbances, and inaccurate robot control compared to open-loop, trajectory-based planning approaches. We present an example implementation of the architecture and investigate the performance on a series of pick and place tasks with both static and dynamic objects and compare the performance to baseline methods. Our method demonstrated a real-world success rate of over 99%, failing in only a single trial from 120 attempts with a physical robot system. The architecture is further demonstrated on other mobile manipulator platforms in simulation. Our approach reduces task time by up to 48%, while also improving reliability, gracefulness, and predictability compared to existing architectures for mobile manipulation. See https://benburgesslimerick.github.io/ManipulationOnTheMove for supplementary materials.
Fabric manipulation is a long-standing challenge in robotics due to the enormous state space and complex dynamics. Learning approaches stand out as promising for this domain as they allow us to learn behaviours directly from data. Most prior methods however rely heavily on simulation, which is still limited by the large sim-to-real gap of deformable objects or rely on large datasets. A promising alternative is to learn fabric manipulation directly from watching humans perform the task. In this work, we explore how demonstrations for fabric manipulation tasks can be collected directly by humans, providing an extremely natural and fast data collection pipeline. Then, using only a handful of such demonstrations, we show how a pick-and-place policy can be learned and deployed on a real robot, without any robot data collection at all. We demonstrate our approach on a fabric folding task, showing that our policy can reliably reach folded states from crumpled initial configurations. Videos are available at: https://sites.google.com/view/foldingbyhand