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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2023
  2. We consider the problem of sequential robotic manipulation of deformable objects using tools. Previous works have shown that differentiable physics simulators provide gradients to the environment state and help trajectory optimization to converge orders of magnitude faster than model-free reinforcement learning algorithms for deformable object manipulation. However, such gradient-based trajectory optimization typically requires access to the full simulator states and can only solve short-horizon, single-skill tasks due to local optima. In this work, we propose a novel framework, named DiffSkill, that uses a differentiable physics simulator for skill abstraction to solve long-horizon deformable object manipulation tasks from sensory observations. In particular, we first obtain short-horizon skills using individual tools from a gradient-based optimizer, using the full state information in a differentiable simulator; we then learn a neural skill abstractor from the demonstration trajectories which takes RGBD images as input. Finally, we plan over the skills by finding the intermediate goals and then solve long-horizon tasks. We show the advantages of our method in a new set of sequential deformable object manipulation tasks compared to previous reinforcement learning algorithms and compared to the trajectory optimizer.
  3. 3D object detection plays an important role in autonomous driving and other robotics applications. However, these detectors usually require training on large amounts of annotated data that is expensive and time-consuming to collect. Instead, we propose leveraging large amounts of unlabeled point cloud videos by semi-supervised learning of 3D object detectors via temporal graph neural networks. Our insight is that temporal smoothing can create more accurate detection results on unlabeled data, and these smoothed detections can then be used to retrain the detector. We learn to perform this temporal reasoning with a graph neural network, where edges represent the relationship between candidate detections in different time frames.
  4. To safely navigate unknown environments; robots must accurately perceive dynamic obstacles. Instead of directly measuring the scene depth with a LiDAR sensor; we explore the use of a much cheaper and higher resolution sensor: programmable light curtains. Light curtains are controllable depth sensors that sense only along a surface that a user selects. We use light curtains to estimate the safety envelope of a scene: a hypothetical surface that separates the robot from all obstacles. We show that generating light curtains that sense random locations (from a particular distribution) can quickly discover the safety envelope for scenes with unknown objects. Importantly; we produce theoretical safety guarantees on the probability of detecting an obstacle using random curtains. We combine random curtains with a machine learning based model that forecasts and tracks the motion of the safety envelope efficiently. Our method accurately estimates safety envelopes while providing probabilistic safety guarantees that can be used to certify the efficacy of a robot perception system to detect and avoid dynamic obstacles. We evaluate our approach in a simulated urban driving environment and a real-world environment with moving pedestrians using a light curtain device and show that we can estimate safety envelopes efficiently and effectively.
  5. We address the problem of goal-directed cloth manipulation, a chal- lenging task due to the deformability of cloth. Our insight is that optical flow, a technique normally used for motion estimation in video, can also provide an effective representation for corresponding cloth poses across observation and goal images. We introduce FabricFlowNet (FFN), a cloth manipulation policy that leverages flow as both an input and as an action representation to improve performance. FabricFlowNet also elegantly switches between dual-arm and single- arm actions based on the desired goal. We show that FabricFlowNet significantly outperforms state-of-the-art model-free and model-based cloth manipulation policies. We also present real-world experiments on a bimanual system, demonstrating effective sim-to-real transfer. Finally, we show that our method generalizes when trained on a single square cloth to other cloth shapes, such as T-shirts and rectangular cloths. Video and other supplementary materials are available at:
  6. Pose estimation is a basic module in many robot manipulation pipelines. Estimating the pose of objects in the environment can be useful for grasping, motion planning, or manipulation. However, current state-of-the-art methods for pose estimation either rely on large annotated training sets or simulated data. Further, the long training times for these methods prohibit quick interaction with novel objects. To address these issues, we introduce a novel method for zero-shot object pose estimation in clutter. Our approach uses a hypothesis generation and scoring framework, with a focus on learning a scoring function that generalizes to objects not used for training. We achieve zero-shot generalization by rating hypotheses as a function of unordered point differences. We evaluate our method on challenging datasets with both textured and untextured objects in cluttered scenes and demonstrate that our method significantly outperforms previous methods on this task. We also demonstrate how our system can be used by quickly scanning and building a model of a novel object, which can immediately be used by our method for pose estimation. Our work allows users to estimate the pose of novel objects without requiring any retraining.
  7. Reinforcement learning (RL) in low-data and risk-sensitive domains requires performant and flexible deployment policies that can readily incorporate constraints during deployment. One such class of policies are the semi-parametric H-step lookahead policies, which select actions using trajectory optimization over a dynamics model for a fixed horizon with a terminal value function. In this work, we investigate a novel instantiation of H-step lookahead with a learned model and a terminal value function learned by a model-free off-policy algorithm, named Learning Off-Policy with Online Planning (LOOP). We provide a theoretical analysis of this method, suggesting a tradeoff between model errors and value function errors and empirically demonstrate this tradeoff to be beneficial in deep reinforcement learning. Furthermore, we identify the "Actor Divergence" issue in this framework and propose Actor Regularized Control (ARC), a modified trajectory optimization procedure. We evaluate our method on a set of robotic tasks for Offline and Online RL and demonstrate improved performance. We also show the flexibility of LOOP to incorporate safety constraints during deployment with a set of navigation environments. We demonstrate that LOOP is a desirable framework for robotics applications based on its strong performance in various important RL settings.
  8. When navigating in urban environments, many of the objects that need to be tracked and avoided are heavily occluded. Planning and tracking using these partial scans can be challenging. The aim of this work is to learn to complete these partial point clouds, giving us a full understanding of the object's geometry using only partial observations. Previous methods achieve this with the help of complete, ground-truth annotations of the target objects, which are available only for simulated datasets. However, such ground truth is unavailable for real-world LiDAR data. In this work, we present a self-supervised point cloud completion algorithm, PointPnCNet, which is trained only on partial scans without assuming access to complete, ground-truth annotations. Our method achieves this via inpainting. We remove a portion of the input data and train the network to complete the missing region. As it is difficult to determine which regions were occluded in the initial cloud and which were synthetically removed, our network learns to complete the full cloud, including the missing regions in the initial partial cloud. We show that our method outperforms previous unsupervised and weakly-supervised methods on both the synthetic dataset, ShapeNet, and real-world LiDAR dataset, Semantic KITTI.
  9. For robots to operate robustly in the real world, they should be aware of their uncertainty. However, most methods for object pose estimation return a single point estimate of the object’s pose. In this work, we propose two learned methods for estimating a distribution over an object’s orientation. Our methods take into account both the inaccuracies in the pose estimation as well as the object symmetries. Our first method, which regresses from deep learned features to an isotropic Bingham distribution, gives the best performance for orientation distribution estimation for non-symmetric objects. Our second method learns to compare deep features and generates a non-parametric histogram distribution. This method gives the best performance on objects with unknown symmetries, accurately modeling both symmetric and non-symmetric objects, without any requirement of symmetry annotation. We show that both of these methods can be used to augment an existing pose estimator. Our evaluation compares our methods to a large number of baseline approaches for uncertainty estimation across a variety of different types of objects. Code available at