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  1. Variable impedance control in operation-space is a promising approach to learning contact-rich manipulation behaviors. One of the main challenges with this approach is producing a manipulation behavior that ensures the safety of the arm and the environment. Such behavior is typically implemented via a reward function that penalizes unsafe actions (e.g. obstacle collision, joint limit extension), but that approach is not always effective and does not result in behaviors that can be reused in slightly different environments. We show how to combine Riemannian Motion Policies, a class of policies that dynamically generate motion in the presence of safety and collision constraints, with variable impedance operation-space control to learn safer contact-rich manipulation behaviors 
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  2. Manipulating an articulated object requires perceiving its kinematic hierarchy: its parts, how each can move, and how those motions are coupled. Previous work has explored perception for kinematics, but none infers a complete kinematic hierarchy on never-before-seen object instances, without relying on a schema or template. We present a novel perception system that achieves this goal. Our system infers the moving parts of an object and the kinematic couplings that relate them. To infer parts, it uses a point cloud instance segmentation neural network and to infer kinematic hierarchies, it uses a graph neural network to predict the existence, direction, and type of edges (i.e. joints) that relate the inferred parts. We train these networks using simulated scans of synthetic 3D models. We evaluate our system on simulated scans of 3D objects, and we demonstrate a proof-of-concept use of our system to drive real-world robotic manipulation. 
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  3. Learning a robot motor skill from scratch is impractically slow; so much so that in practice, learning must typically be bootstrapped using human demonstration. However, relying on human demonstration necessarily degrades the autonomy of robots that must learn a wide variety of skills over their operational lifetimes. We propose using kinematic motion planning as a completely autonomous, sample efficient way to bootstrap motor skill learning for object manipulation. We demonstrate the use of motion planners to bootstrap motor skills in two complex object manipulation scenarios with different policy representations: opening a drawer with a dynamic movement primitive representation, and closing a microwave door with a deep neural network policy. We also show how our method can bootstrap a motor skill for the challenging dynamic task of learning to hit a ball off a tee, where a kinematic plan based on treating the scene as static is insufficient to solve the task, but sufficient to bootstrap a more dynamic policy. In all three cases, our method is competitive with human-demonstrated initialization, and significantly outperforms starting with a random policy. This approach enables robots to to efficiently and autonomously learn motor policies for dynamic tasks without human demonstration. 
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  4. Robots operating in human environments must be capable of interacting with a wide variety of articulated objects such as cabinets, refrigerators, and drawers. Existing approaches require human demonstration or minutes of interaction to fit kinematic models to each novel object from scratch. We present a framework for estimating the kinematic model and configuration of previously unseen articulated objects, conditioned upon object type, from as little as a single observation. We train our system in simulation with a novel dataset of synthetic articulated objects; at runtime, our model can predict the shape and kinematic model of an object from depth sensor data. We demonstrate that our approach enables a MOVO robot to view an object with its RGB-D sensor, estimate its motion model, and use that estimate to interact with the object. 
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