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  1. Over the years, many motion planning algorithms have been proposed. It is often unclear which algorithm might be best suited for a particular class of problems. The problem is compounded by the fact that algorithm performance can be highly dependent on parameter settings. This paper shows that hyperparameter optimization is an effective tool in both algorithm selection and parameter tuning over a given set of motion planning problems. We present different loss functions for optimization that capture different notions of optimality. The approach is evaluated on a broad range of scenes using two different manipulators, a Fetch and a Baxter. We show that optimized planning algorithm performance significantly improves upon baseline performance and generalizes broadly in the sense that performance improvements carry over to problems that are very different from the ones considered during optimization. 
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  2. Robotic manipulation problems are inherently continuous, but typically have underlying discrete structure, e.g., whether or not an object is grasped. This means many problems are multi-modal and in particular have a continuous infinity of modes. For example, in a pick-and-place manipulation domain, every grasp and placement of an object is a mode. Usually manipulation problems require the robot to transition into different modes, e.g., going from a mode with an object placed to another mode with the object grasped. To successfully find a manipulation plan, a planner must find a sequence of valid single-mode motions as well as valid transitions between these modes. Many manipulation planners have been proposed to solve tasks with multi-modal structure. However, these methods require mode-specific planners and fail to scale to very cluttered environments or to tasks that require long sequences of transitions. This paper presents a general layered planning approach to multi-modal planning that uses a discrete “lead” to bias search towards useful mode transitions. The difficulty of achieving specific mode transitions is captured online and used to bias search towards more promising sequences of modes. We demonstrate our planner on complex scenes and show that significant performance improvements are tied to both our discrete “lead” and our continuous representation. 
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