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  1. It is imperative that robots can understand natural language commands issued by humans. Such commands typically contain verbs that signify what action should be performed on a given object and that are applicable to many objects. We propose a method for generalizing manipulation skills to novel objects using verbs. Our method learns a probabilistic classifier that determines whether a given object trajectory can be described by a specific verb. We show that this classifier accurately generalizes to novel object categories with an average accuracy of 76.69% across 13 object categories and 14 verbs. We then perform policy search over the object kinematics to find an object trajectory that maximizes classifier prediction for a given verb. Our method allows a robot to generate a trajectory for a novel object based on a verb, which can then be used as input to a motion planner. We show that our model can generate trajectories that are usable for executing five verb commands applied to novel instances of two different object categories on a real robot. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  2. We introduce RLang, a domain-specific language (DSL) for communicating domain knowledge to an RL agent. Unlike existing RL DSLs that ground to single elements of a decision-making formalism (e.g., the reward function or policy), RLang can specify information about every element of a Markov decision process. We define precise syntax and grounding semantics for RLang, and provide a parser that grounds RLang programs to an algorithm-agnostic partial world model and policy that can be exploited by an RL agent. We provide a series of example RLang programs demonstrating how different RL methods can exploit the resulting knowledge, encompassing model-free and model-based tabular algorithms, policy gradient and value-based methods, hierarchical approaches, and deep methods. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  3. This article surveys the use of natural language in robotics from a robotics point of view. To use human language, robots must map words to aspects of the physical world, mediated by the robot's sensors and actuators. This problem differs from other natural language processing domains due to the need to ground the language to noisy percepts and physical actions. Here, we describe central aspects of language use by robots, including understanding natural language requests, using language to drive learning about the physical world, and engaging in collaborative dialogue with a human partner. We describe common approaches, roughly divided into learning methods, logic-based methods, and methods that focus on questions of human–robot interaction. Finally, we describe several application domains for language-using robots. 
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  4. null (Ed.)
  5. Robots acting in human-scale environments must plan under uncertainty in large state–action spaces and face constantly changing reward functions as requirements and goals change. Planning under uncertainty in large state–action spaces requires hierarchical abstraction for efficient computation. We introduce a new hierarchical planning framework called Abstract Markov Decision Processes (AMDPs) that can plan in a fraction of the time needed for complex decision making in ordinary MDPs. AMDPs provide abstract states, actions, and transition dynamics in multiple layers above a base-level “flat” MDP. AMDPs decompose problems into a series of subtasks with both local reward and local transition functions used to create policies for subtasks. The resulting hierarchical planning method is independently optimal at each level of abstraction, and is recursively optimal when the local reward and transition functions are correct. We present empirical results showing significantly improved planning speed, while maintaining solution quality, in the Taxi domain and in a mobile-manipulation robotics problem. Furthermore, our approach allows specification of a decision-making model for a mobile-manipulation problem on a Turtlebot, spanning from low-level control actions operating on continuous variables all the way up through high-level object manipulation tasks. 
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  6. Robots acting in human-scale environments must plan under uncertainty in large state–action spaces and face constantly changing reward functions as requirements and goals change. Planning under uncertainty in large state–action spaces requires hierarchical abstraction for efficient computation. We introduce a new hierarchical planning framework called Abstract Markov Decision Processes (AMDPs) that can plan in a fraction of the time needed for complex decision making in ordinary MDPs. AMDPs provide abstract states, actions, and transition dynamics in multiple layers above a base-level “flat” MDP. AMDPs decompose problems into a series of subtasks with both local reward and local transition functions used to create policies for subtasks. The resulting hierarchical planning method is independently optimal at each level of abstraction, and is recursively optimal when the local reward and transition functions are correct. We present empirical results showing significantly improved planning speed, while maintaining solution quality, in the Taxi domain and in a mobile-manipulation robotics problem. Furthermore, our approach allows specification of a decision-making model for a mobile-manipulation problem on a Turtlebot, spanning from low-level control actions operating on continuous variables all the way up through high-level object manipulation tasks. 
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