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Publication# Memory of Motion for Initializing Optimization in Robotics

Résumé

Many robotics problems are formulated as optimization problems. However, most optimization solvers in robotics are locally optimal and the performance depends a lot on the initial guess. For challenging problems, the solver will often get stuck at poor local optima without a good initialization. In this thesis, we consider various techniques to provide a good initial guess to the solver based on previous experience. We use the term memory of motion to collectively refer to these techniques. The key idea is to use the existing system models, cost functions, and simulation tools to generate a database of solutions, and then construct a memory of motion model. During online execution, we can then query the initial guess of a given task from the memory of motion. We show that it improves the solver performance in terms of the solution quality, the success rates, and the computation time. We consider two different formulations, i.e., supervised learning and probability density estimation. In the first part, we formulate a regression problem to find the mapping between the task parameters and the solutions. Such a formulation is convenient, as there are a lot of function approximations available, but using them as a black box tool may result in poor predictions. It is especially the case for multimodal problems where there can be several different solutions for a given task and standard function approximators will simply average the different modes. We first propose an ensemble of function approximators that can handle multimodal problems to initialize an optimization-based motion planner. We then investigate the problem of initializing an optimal control solver for legged robot locomotion, where we need to also provide the initial guess of the control sequence. We evaluate the effect of different initialization components on the optimal control solver performance. In the second part, we consider another formulation by first transforming the cost function into an unnormalized Probability Density Function (PDF) and approximating it using various models. This formulation addresses several shortcomings of the supervised learning approaches by using the cost function itself to train or construct the predictive model. It allows us to generate initial guesses that have high probabilities of having low-cost values instead of simply imitating the dataset. We first show that we can obtain a trajectory distribution of an iLQR problem as a Gaussian distribution, and tracking this distribution results in a cost-efficient and robust controller. We then propose a generative adversarial framework to learn the distribution of robot configurations under constraints. Finally, we use tensor methods to approximate the unnormalized PDF. Since it does not rely on gradient information, the method is quite robust in finding the (possibly multiple) global optima or at least the good local optima of various challenging problems including some benchmark optimization functions, inverse kinematics, and motion planning.

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The control of compliant robots is, due to their often nonlinear and complex dynamics, inherently difficult. The vision of morphological computation proposes to view these aspects not only as problems, but rather also as parts of the solution. Non-rigid body parts are not seen anymore as imperfect realizations of rigid body parts, but rather as potential computational resources. The applicability of this vision has already been demonstrated for a variety of complex robot control problems. Nevertheless, a theoretical basis for understanding the capabilities and limitations of morphological computation has been missing so far. We present a model for morphological computation with compliant bodies, where a precise mathematical characterization of the potential computational contribution of a complex physical body is feasible. The theory suggests that complexity and nonlinearity, typically unwanted properties of robots, are desired features in order to provide computational power. We demonstrate that simple generic models of physical bodies, based on mass-spring systems, can be used to implement complex nonlinear operators. By adding a simple readout (which is static and linear) to the morphology, such devices are able to emulate complex mappings of input to output streams in continuous time. Hence, by outsourcing parts of the computation to the physical body, the difficult problem of learning to control a complex body, could be reduced to a simple and perspicuous learning task, which can not get stuck in local minima of an error function.

2011Ezequiel Leonardo Di Mario, Alcherio Martinoli, Inaki Navarro Oiza

In this paper we study the automatic synthesis of robotic controllers for the coordinated movement of multiple mobile robots. The algorithm used to learn the controllers is a noise-resistant version of Particle Swarm Optimization, which is applied in two different settings: centralized and distributed learning. In centralized learning, every robot runs the same controller and the performance is evaluated with a global metric. In the distributed learning, robots run different controllers and the performance is evaluated independently on each robot with a local metric. Our results from learning in simulation show that it is possible to learn a cooperative task in a fully distributed way employing a local metric, and we validate the simulations with real robot experiments where the best solutions from distributed and centralized learning achieve similar performances.

2014Reaching over to grasp an item is arguably the most commonly used motor skill by humans. Even under sudden perturbations, humans seem to react rapidly and adapt their motion to guarantee success. Despite the apparent ease and frequency with which we use this ability, a complete understanding of the underlying mechanisms cannot be claimed. It is partly due to such incomplete knowledge that adaptive robot motion for reaching and grasping under perturbations is not perfectly achieved. In this thesis, we take the discriminative approach for modelling trajectories of reach-to-grasp motion from expert demonstrations. Throughout this thesis, we will employ time-independent (autonomous) flow based representations to learn reactive motion controllers which can then be ported onto robots. This thesis is divided into three main parts. The first part is dedicated to biologically inspired modelling of reach-to-grasp motions with respect to the hand-arm coupling. We build upon previous work in motion modelling using autonomous dynamical systems (DS) and present a coupled dynamical system (CDS) model of these two subsystems. The coupled model ensures satisfaction of the constraints between the hand and the arm subsystems which are critical to the success of a reach-to-grasp task. Moreover, it reduces the complexity of the overall motion planning problem as compared to considering a combined problem for the hand and the arm motion. In the second part we extend the CDS approach to incorporate multiple grasping points. Such a model is beneficial due to the fact that many daily life objects afford multiple grasping locations on their surface. We combine a DS based approach with energy-function learning to learn a multiple attractor dynamical system where the attractors are mapped to the desired grasping points. We present the Augmented-SVM (ASVM) model that combines the classical SVM formulation with gradient constraints arising from the energy function to learn the desired dynamical function for motion generation. In the last part of this thesis, we address the problem of inverse-kinematics and obstacle avoidance by combining our flow-based motion generator with global configuration-space planners. We claim that the two techniques complement each other. On one hand, the fast reactive nature of our flow based motion generator can used to guide the search of a randomly exploring random tree (RRT) based global planner. On the other hand, global planners can efficiently handle arbitrary obstacles and avoid local minima present in the dynamical function learned from demonstrations. We show that combining the information from demonstrations with global planning in the form of a energy-map considerably decreases the computational complexity of state-of-the-art sampling based planners. We believe that this thesis has the following contributions to Robotics and Machine Learning. First, we have developed algorithms for fast and adaptive motion generation for reach-grasp motions. Second, we formulated an extension to the classical SVM formulation that takes into account the gradient information from data. We showed that instead of being limited as a classifier or a regressor, the SVM framework can be used as a more general function approximation technique. Lastly, we have combined our local methods with global approaches for planning to achieve arbitrary obstacle avoidance and considerable reduction in the computation complexity of the global planners.