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  1. Task-relevant grasping is critical for industrial assembly, where downstream manipulation tasks constrain the set of valid grasps. Learning how to perform this task, however, is challenging, since task-relevant grasp labels are hard to define and annotate. There is also yet no consensus on proper representations for modeling or off-the-shelf tools for performing task-relevant grasps. This work proposes a framework to learn task-relevant grasping for industrial objects without the need of time-consuming real-world data collection or manual annotation. To achieve this, the entire framework is trained solely in simulation, including supervised training with synthetic label generation and self-supervised, hand-object interaction. In the context of this framework, this paper proposes a novel, object-centric canonical representation at the category level, which allows establishing dense correspondence across object instances and transferring task-relevant grasps to novel instances. Extensive experiments on task-relevant grasping of densely-cluttered industrial objects are conducted in both simulation and real-world setups, demonstrating the effectiveness of the proposed framework. 
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  2. This work proposes a robotic pipeline for picking and constrained placement of objects without geometric shape priors. Compared to recent efforts developed for similar tasks, where every object was assumed to be novel, the proposed system recognizes previously manipulated objects and performs online model reconstruction and reuse. Over a lifelong manipulation process, the system keeps learning features of objects it has interacted with and updates their reconstructed models. Whenever an instance of a previously manipulated object reappears, the system aims to first recognize it and then register its previously reconstructed model given the current observation. This step greatly reduces object shape uncertainty allowing the system to even reason for parts of objects, which are currently not observable. This also results in better manipulation efficiency as it reduces the need for active perception of the target object during manipulation. To get a reusable reconstructed model, the proposed pipeline adopts: i) TSDF for object representation, and ii) a variant of the standard particle filter algorithm for pose estimation and tracking of the partial object model. Furthermore, an effective way to construct and maintain a dataset of manipulated objects is presented. A sequence of real-world manipulation experiments is performed. They show how future manipulation tasks become more effective and efficient by reusing reconstructed models of previously manipulated objects, which were generated during their prior manipulation, instead of treating objects as novel every time. 
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  3. Constraining contacts to remain fixed on an object during manipulation limits the potential workspace size, as motion is subject to the hand’s kinematic topology. Finger gaiting is one way to alleviate such restraints. It allows contacts to be freely broken and remade so as to operate on different manipulation manifolds. This capability, however, has traditionally been difficult or impossible to practically realize. A finger gaiting system must simultaneously plan for and control forces on the object while maintaining stability during contact switching. This letter alleviates the traditional requirement by taking advantage of system compliance, allowing the hand to more easily switch contacts while maintaining a stable grasp. Our method achieves complete SO(3) finger gaiting control of grasped objects against gravity by developing a manipulation planner that operates via orthogonal safe modes of a compliant, underactuated hand absent of tactile sensors or joint encoders. During manipulation, a low-latency 6D pose object tracker provides feedback via vision, allowing the planner to update its plan online so as to adaptively recover from trajectory deviations. The efficacy of this method is showcased by manipulating both convex and non-convex objects on a real robot. Its robustness is evaluated via perturbation rejection and long trajectory goals. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first work that has autonomously achieved full SO(3) control of objects within-hand via finger gaiting and without a support surface, elucidating a valuable step towards realizing true robot in-hand manipulation capabilities. 
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  4. null (Ed.)
    Tracking the 6D pose of objects in video sequences is important for robot manipulation. Most prior efforts, however, often assume that the target object's CAD model, at least at a category-level, is available for offline training or during online template matching. This work proposes BundleTrack, a general framework for 6D pose tracking of novel objects, which does not depend upon 3D models, either at the instance or category-level. It leverages the complementary attributes of recent advances in deep learning for segmentation and robust feature extraction, as well as memory-augmented pose graph optimization for spatiotemporal consistency. This enables long-term, low-drift tracking under various challenging scenarios, including significant occlusions and object motions. Comprehensive experiments given two public benchmarks demonstrate that the proposed approach significantly outperforms state-of-art, category-level 6D tracking or dynamic SLAM methods. When compared against state-of-art methods that rely on an object instance CAD model, comparable performance is achieved, despite the proposed method's reduced information requirements. An efficient implementation in CUDA provides a real-time performance of 10Hz for the entire framework. Code is available at: 
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  5. null (Ed.)
    Learning policies in simulation is promising for reducing human effort when training robot controllers. This is especially true for soft robots that are more adaptive and safe but also more difficult to accurately model and control. The sim2real gap is the main barrier to successfully transfer policies from simulation to a real robot. System identification can be applied to reduce this gap but traditional identification methods require a lot of manual tuning. Data-driven alternatives can tune dynamical models directly from data but are often data hungry, which also incorporates human effort in collecting data. This work proposes a data-driven, end-to-end differentiable simulator focused on the exciting but challenging domain of tensegrity robots. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first differentiable physics engine for tensegrity robots that supports cable, contact, and actuation modeling. The aim is to develop a reasonably simplified, data-driven simulation, which can learn approximate dynamics with limited ground truth data. The dynamics must be accurate enough to generate policies that can be transferred back to the ground-truth system. As a first step in this direction, the current work demonstrates sim2sim transfer, where the unknown physical model of MuJoCo acts as a ground truth system. Two different tensegrity robots are used for evaluation and learning of locomotion policies, a 6-bar and a 3-bar tensegrity. The results indicate that only 0.25% of ground truth data are needed to train a policy that works on the ground truth system when the differentiable engine is used for training against training the policy directly on the ground truth system. 
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  6. null (Ed.)
    Dynamic tensegrity robots are inspired by tensegrity structures in architecture; arrangements of rigid rods and flexible elements allow the robots to deform. This work proposes the use of multiple, modular, tensegrity robots that can move and compliantly connect to assemble larger, compliant, lightweight, strong structures and scaffolding. The focus is on proof-of-concept designs for the modular robots themselves and their docking mechanisms, which can allow the easy deployment of structures in unstructured environments. These mechanisms include (electro)magnets to allow each individual robot to connect and disconnect on cue. An exciting direction is the design of specific module and structure designs to fit the mission at hand. For example, this work highlights how the considered three bar structures could stack to form a column or deform on one side to create an arch. A critical component of future work will involve the development of algorithms for automatic design and layout of modules in structures. 
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  7. null (Ed.)
  8. Numerous recent advances in robotics have been inspired by the biological principle of tensile integrity — or “tensegrity”— to achieve remarkable feats of dexterity and resilience. Tensegrity robots contain compliant networks of rigid struts and soft cables, allowing them to change their shape by adjusting their internal tension. Local rigidity along the struts provides support to carry electronics and scientific payloads, while global compliance enabled by the flexible interconnections of struts and cables allows a tensegrity to distribute impacts and prevent damage. Numerous techniques have been proposed for designing and simulating tensegrity robots, giving rise to a wide range of locomotion modes including rolling, vibrating, hopping, and crawling. Here, we review progress in the burgeoning field of tensegrity robotics, highlighting several emerging challenges, including automated design, state sensing, and kinodynamic motion planning. 
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  9. null (Ed.)
    Object rearrangement is a widely-applicable and challenging task for robots. Geometric constraints must be carefully examined to avoid collisions and combinatorial issues arise as the number of objects increases. This work studies the algorithmic structure of rearranging uniform objects, where robot-object collisions do not occur but object-object collisions have to be avoided. The objective is minimizing the number of object transfers under the assumption that the robot can manipulate one object at a time. An efficiently computable decomposition of the configuration space is used to create a ``region graph'', which classifies all continuous paths of equivalent collision possibilities. Based on this compact but rich representation, a complete dynamic programming primitive DFSDP performs a recursive depth first search to solve monotone problems quickly, i.e., those instances that do not require objects to be moved first to an intermediate buffer. DFSDP is extended to solve single-buffer, non-monotone instances, given a choice of an object and a buffer. This work utilizes these primitives as local planners in an informed search framework for more general, non-monotone instances. The search utilizes partial solutions from the primitives to identify the most promising choice of objects and buffers. Experiments demonstrate that the proposed solution returns near-optimal paths with higher success rate, even for challenging non-monotone instances, than other leading alternatives. 
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