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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2023
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2023
  3. 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.
  4. Robotic manipulation of cloth remains challenging due to the complex dynamics of cloth, lack of a low-dimensional state representation, and self-occlusions. In contrast to previous model-based approaches that learn a pixel-based dynamics model or a compressed latent vector dynamics, we propose to learn a particle-based dynamics model from a partial point cloud observation. To overcome the challenges of partial observability, we infer which visible points are connected on the underlying cloth mesh. We then learn a dynamics model over this visible connectivity graph. Compared to previous learning-based approaches, our model poses strong inductive bias with its particle based representation for learning the underlying cloth physics; it can generalize to cloths with novel shapes; it is invariant to visual features; and the predictions can be more easily visualized. We show that our method greatly outperforms previous state-of-the-art model-based and model-free reinforcement learning methods in simulation. Furthermore, we demonstrate zero-shot sim-to-real transfer where we deploy the model trained in simulation on a Franka arm and show that the model can successfully smooth cloths of different materials, geometries and colors from crumpled configurations.