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2020


A little damping goes a long way: a simulation study of how damping influences task-level stability in running
A little damping goes a long way: a simulation study of how damping influences task-level stability in running

Heim, S., Millard, M., Mouel, C. L., Badri-Spröwitz, A.

Biology Letters, 16(9), September 2020 (article)

Abstract
It is currently unclear if damping plays a functional role in legged locomotion, and simple models often do not include damping terms. We present a new model with a damping term that is isolated from other parameters: that is, the damping term can be adjusted without retuning other model parameters for nominal motion. We systematically compare how increased damping affects stability in the face of unexpected ground-height perturbations. Unlike most studies, we focus on task-level stability: instead of observing whether trajectories converge towards a nominal limit-cycle, we quantify the ability to avoid falls using a recently developed mathematical measure. This measure allows trajectories to be compared quantitatively instead of only being separated into a binary classification of ‘stable' or ‘unstable'. Our simulation study shows that increased damping contributes significantly to task-level stability; however, this benefit quickly plateaus after only a small amount of damping. These results suggest that the low intrinsic damping values observed experimentally may have stability benefits and are not simply minimized for energetic reasons. All Python code and data needed to generate our results are available open source.

dlg ics

link (url) DOI [BibTex]

2020


link (url) DOI [BibTex]


Combining learned and analytical models for predicting action effects from sensory data
Combining learned and analytical models for predicting action effects from sensory data

Kloss, A., Schaal, S., Bohg, J.

International Journal of Robotics Research, September 2020 (article)

Abstract
One of the most basic skills a robot should possess is predicting the effect of physical interactions with objects in the environment. This enables optimal action selection to reach a certain goal state. Traditionally, dynamics are approximated by physics-based analytical models. These models rely on specific state representations that may be hard to obtain from raw sensory data, especially if no knowledge of the object shape is assumed. More recently, we have seen learning approaches that can predict the effect of complex physical interactions directly from sensory input. It is however an open question how far these models generalize beyond their training data. In this work, we investigate the advantages and limitations of neural network based learning approaches for predicting the effects of actions based on sensory input and show how analytical and learned models can be combined to leverage the best of both worlds. As physical interaction task, we use planar pushing, for which there exists a well-known analytical model and a large real-world dataset. We propose to use a convolutional neural network to convert raw depth images or organized point clouds into a suitable representation for the analytical model and compare this approach to using neural networks for both, perception and prediction. A systematic evaluation of the proposed approach on a very large real-world dataset shows two main advantages of the hybrid architecture. Compared to a pure neural network, it significantly (i) reduces required training data and (ii) improves generalization to novel physical interaction.

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arXiv pdf link (url) DOI [BibTex]


Effective Viscous Damping Enables Morphological Computation in Legged Locomotion
Effective Viscous Damping Enables Morphological Computation in Legged Locomotion

Mo, A., Izzi, F., Haeufle, D. F. B., Badri-Spröwitz, A.

Frontiers Robots and Ai, 7:110, August 2020 (article)

Abstract
Muscle models and animal observations suggest that physical damping is beneficial for stabilization. Still, only a few implementations of mechanical damping exist in compliant robotic legged locomotion. It remains unclear how physical damping can be exploited for locomotion tasks, while its advantages as sensor-free, adaptive force- and negative work-producing actuators are promising. In a simplified numerical leg model, we studied the energy dissipation from viscous and Coulomb damping during vertical drops with ground-level perturbations. A parallel spring-damper is engaged between touch-down and mid-stance, and its damper auto-disengages during mid-stance and takeoff. Our simulations indicate that an adjustable and viscous damper is desired. In hardware we explored effective viscous damping and adjustability and quantified the dissipated energy. We tested two mechanical, leg-mounted damping mechanisms; a commercial hydraulic damper, and a custom-made pneumatic damper. The pneumatic damper exploits a rolling diaphragm with an adjustable orifice, minimizing Coulomb damping effects while permitting adjustable resistance. Experimental results show that the leg-mounted, hydraulic damper exhibits the most effective viscous damping. Adjusting the orifice setting did not result in substantial changes of dissipated energy per drop, unlike adjusting damping parameters in the numerical model. Consequently, we also emphasize the importance of characterizing physical dampers during real legged impacts to evaluate their effectiveness for compliant legged locomotion.

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Youtube link (url) DOI [BibTex]

Youtube link (url) DOI [BibTex]


Learning Variable Impedance Control for Contact Sensitive Tasks
Learning Variable Impedance Control for Contact Sensitive Tasks

Bogdanovic, M., Khadiv, M., Righetti, L.

IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters ( Early Access ), IEEE, July 2020 (article)

Abstract
Reinforcement learning algorithms have shown great success in solving different problems ranging from playing video games to robotics. However, they struggle to solve delicate robotic problems, especially those involving contact interactions. Though in principle a policy outputting joint torques should be able to learn these tasks, in practice we see that they have difficulty to robustly solve the problem without any structure in the action space. In this paper, we investigate how the choice of action space can give robust performance in presence of contact uncertainties. We propose to learn a policy that outputs impedance and desired position in joint space as a function of system states without imposing any other structure to the problem. We compare the performance of this approach to torque and position control policies under different contact uncertainties. Extensive simulation results on two different systems, a hopper (floating-base) with intermittent contacts and a manipulator (fixed-base) wiping a table, show that our proposed approach outperforms policies outputting torque or position in terms of both learning rate and robustness to environment uncertainty.

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DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


Walking Control Based on Step Timing Adaptation
Walking Control Based on Step Timing Adaptation

Khadiv, M., Herzog, A., Moosavian, S. A. A., Righetti, L.

IEEE Transactions on Robotics, 36, pages: 629 - 643, IEEE, June 2020 (article)

Abstract
Step adjustment can improve the gait robustness of biped robots; however, the adaptation of step timing is often neglected as it gives rise to nonconvex problems when optimized over several footsteps. In this article, we argue that it is not necessary to optimize walking over several steps to ensure gait viability and show that it is sufficient to merely select the next step timing and location. Using this insight, we propose a novel walking pattern generator that optimally selects step location and timing at every control cycle. Our approach is computationally simple compared to standard approaches in the literature, yet guarantees that any viable state will remain viable in the future. We propose a swing foot adaptation strategy and integrate the pattern generator with an inverse dynamics controller that does not explicitly control the center of mass nor the foot center of pressure. This is particularly useful for biped robots with limited control authority over their foot center of pressure, such as robots with point feet or passive ankles. Extensive simulations on a humanoid robot with passive ankles demonstrate the capabilities of the approach in various walking situations, including external pushes and foot slippage, and emphasize the importance of step timing adaptation to stabilize walking.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [BibTex]


Trunk pitch oscillations for energy trade-offs in bipedal running birds and robots
Trunk pitch oscillations for energy trade-offs in bipedal running birds and robots

Drama, Ö., Badri-Spröwitz, A.

Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 15(3), March 2020 (article)

Abstract
Bipedal animals have diverse morphologies and advanced locomotion abilities. Terrestrial birds, in particular, display agile, efficient, and robust running motion, in which they exploit the interplay between the body segment masses and moment of inertias. On the other hand, most legged robots are not able to generate such versatile and energy-efficient motion and often disregard trunk movements as a means to enhance their locomotion capabilities. Recent research investigated how trunk motions affect the gait characteristics of humans, but there is a lack of analysis across different bipedal morphologies. To address this issue, we analyze avian running based on a spring-loaded inverted pendulum model with a pronograde (horizontal) trunk. We use a virtual point based control scheme and modify the alignment of the ground reaction forces to assess how our control strategy influences the trunk pitch oscillations and energetics of the locomotion. We derive three potential key strategies to leverage trunk pitch motions that minimize either the energy fluctuations of the center of mass or the work performed by the hip and leg. We suggest how these strategies could be used in legged robotics.

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Youtube Video link (url) DOI [BibTex]

Youtube Video link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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Semi-Supervised Learning of Multi-Object 3D Scene Representations

Elich, C., Oswald, M. R., Pollefeys, M., Stueckler, J.

CoRR, abs/2010.04030, 2020 (article)

Abstract
Representing scenes at the granularity of objects is a prerequisite for scene understanding and decision making. We propose a novel approach for learning multi-object 3D scene representations from images. A recurrent encoder regresses a latent representation of 3D shapes, poses and texture of each object from an input RGB image. The 3D shapes are represented continuously in function-space as signed distance functions (SDF) which we efficiently pre-train from example shapes in a supervised way. By differentiable rendering we then train our model to decompose scenes self-supervised from RGB-D images. Our approach learns to decompose images into the constituent objects of the scene and to infer their shape, pose and texture from a single view. We evaluate the accuracy of our model in inferring the 3D scene layout and demonstrate its generative capabilities.

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link (url) [BibTex]

link (url) [BibTex]


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Analytical classical density functionals from an equation learning network

Lin, S., Martius, G., Oettel, M.

The Journal of Chemical Physics, 152(2):021102, 2020, arXiv preprint \url{https://arxiv.org/abs/1910.12752} (article)

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Preprint_PDF DOI [BibTex]

Preprint_PDF DOI [BibTex]


Wearable and Stretchable Strain Sensors: Materials, Sensing Mechanisms, and Applications
Wearable and Stretchable Strain Sensors: Materials, Sensing Mechanisms, and Applications

Souri, H., Banerjee, H., Jusufi, A., Radacsi, N., Stokes, A. A., Park, I., Sitti, M., Amjadi, M.

Advanced Intelligent Systems, 2020 (article)

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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Visual-Inertial Mapping with Non-Linear Factor Recovery

Usenko, V., Demmel, N., Schubert, D., Stückler, J., Cremers, D.

IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters (RA-L), 5, 2020, accepted for presentation at IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) 2020, to appear, arXiv:1904.06504 (article)

Abstract
Cameras and inertial measurement units are complementary sensors for ego-motion estimation and environment mapping. Their combination makes visual-inertial odometry (VIO) systems more accurate and robust. For globally consistent mapping, however, combining visual and inertial information is not straightforward. To estimate the motion and geometry with a set of images large baselines are required. Because of that, most systems operate on keyframes that have large time intervals between each other. Inertial data on the other hand quickly degrades with the duration of the intervals and after several seconds of integration, it typically contains only little useful information. In this paper, we propose to extract relevant information for visual-inertial mapping from visual-inertial odometry using non-linear factor recovery. We reconstruct a set of non-linear factors that make an optimal approximation of the information on the trajectory accumulated by VIO. To obtain a globally consistent map we combine these factors with loop-closing constraints using bundle adjustment. The VIO factors make the roll and pitch angles of the global map observable, and improve the robustness and the accuracy of the mapping. In experiments on a public benchmark, we demonstrate superior performance of our method over the state-of-the-art approaches.

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[BibTex]

[BibTex]


Postural Stability in Human Running with Step-down Perturbations: An Experimental and Numerical Study
Postural Stability in Human Running with Step-down Perturbations: An Experimental and Numerical Study

Oezge Drama, , Johanna Vielemeyer, , Alexander Badri-Spröwitz, , Müller, R.

2020 (article) In revision

Abstract
Postural stability is one of the most crucial elements in bipedal locomotion. Bipeds are dynamically unstable and need to maintain their trunk upright against the rotations induced by the ground reaction forces (GRFs), especially when running. Gait studies report that the GRF vectors focus around a virtual point above the center of mass (VPA), while the trunk moves forward in pitch axis during the stance phase of human running. However, a recent simulation study suggests that a virtual point below the center of mass (VPB) might be present in human running, since a VPA yields backward trunk rotation during the stance phase. In this work, we perform a gait analysis to investigate the existence and location of the VP in human running at 5 m s−1, and support our findings numerically using the spring-loaded inverted pendulum model with a trunk (TSLIP). We extend our analysis to include perturbations in terrain height (visible and camouflaged), and investigate the response of the VP mechanism to step-down perturbations both experimentally and numerically. Our experimental results show that the human running gait displays a VPB of ≈ −30 cm and a forward trunk motion during the stance phase. The camouflaged step-down perturbations affect the location of the VPB. Our simulation results suggest that the VPB is able to encounter the step-down perturbations and bring the system back to its initial equilibrium state.

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link (url) [BibTex]

link (url) [BibTex]


Electronics, Software and Analysis of a Bioinspired Sensorized Quadrupedal Robot
Electronics, Software and Analysis of a Bioinspired Sensorized Quadrupedal Robot

Petereit, R.

Technische Universität München, 2020 (mastersthesis)

dlg

[BibTex]


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Fish-like aquatic propulsion studied using a pneumatically-actuated soft-robotic model

Wolf, Z., Jusufi, A., Vogt, D. M., Lauder, G. V.

Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 15(4):046008, Inst. of Physics, London, 2020 (article)

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DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


Safe and Fast Tracking on a Robot Manipulator: Robust MPC and Neural Network Control
Safe and Fast Tracking on a Robot Manipulator: Robust MPC and Neural Network Control

Nubert, J., Koehler, J., Berenz, V., Allgower, F., Trimpe, S.

IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, 2020 (article) Accepted

Abstract
Fast feedback control and safety guarantees are essential in modern robotics. We present an approach that achieves both by combining novel robust model predictive control (MPC) with function approximation via (deep) neural networks (NNs). The result is a new approach for complex tasks with nonlinear, uncertain, and constrained dynamics as are common in robotics. Specifically, we leverage recent results in MPC research to propose a new robust setpoint tracking MPC algorithm, which achieves reliable and safe tracking of a dynamic setpoint while guaranteeing stability and constraint satisfaction. The presented robust MPC scheme constitutes a one-layer approach that unifies the often separated planning and control layers, by directly computing the control command based on a reference and possibly obstacle positions. As a separate contribution, we show how the computation time of the MPC can be drastically reduced by approximating the MPC law with a NN controller. The NN is trained and validated from offline samples of the MPC, yielding statistical guarantees, and used in lieu thereof at run time. Our experiments on a state-of-the-art robot manipulator are the first to show that both the proposed robust and approximate MPC schemes scale to real-world robotic systems.

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arXiv PDF DOI [BibTex]

arXiv PDF DOI [BibTex]

1998


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Constructive incremental learning from only local information

Schaal, S., Atkeson, C. G.

Neural Computation, 10(8):2047-2084, 1998, clmc (article)

Abstract
We introduce a constructive, incremental learning system for regression problems that models data by means of spatially localized linear models. In contrast to other approaches, the size and shape of the receptive field of each locally linear model as well as the parameters of the locally linear model itself are learned independently, i.e., without the need for competition or any other kind of communication. Independent learning is accomplished by incrementally minimizing a weighted local cross validation error. As a result, we obtain a learning system that can allocate resources as needed while dealing with the bias-variance dilemma in a principled way. The spatial localization of the linear models increases robustness towards negative interference. Our learning system can be interpreted as a nonparametric adaptive bandwidth smoother, as a mixture of experts where the experts are trained in isolation, and as a learning system which profits from combining independent expert knowledge on the same problem. This paper illustrates the potential learning capabilities of purely local learning and offers an interesting and powerful approach to learning with receptive fields. 

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link (url) [BibTex]

1998


link (url) [BibTex]


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Local adaptive subspace regression

Vijayakumar, S., Schaal, S.

Neural Processing Letters, 7(3):139-149, 1998, clmc (article)

Abstract
Incremental learning of sensorimotor transformations in high dimensional spaces is one of the basic prerequisites for the success of autonomous robot devices as well as biological movement systems. So far, due to sparsity of data in high dimensional spaces, learning in such settings requires a significant amount of prior knowledge about the learning task, usually provided by a human expert. In this paper we suggest a partial revision of the view. Based on empirical studies, we observed that, despite being globally high dimensional and sparse, data distributions from physical movement systems are locally low dimensional and dense. Under this assumption, we derive a learning algorithm, Locally Adaptive Subspace Regression, that exploits this property by combining a dynamically growing local dimensionality reduction technique  as a preprocessing step with a nonparametric learning technique, locally weighted regression, that also learns the region of validity of the regression. The usefulness of the algorithm and the validity of its assumptions are illustrated for a synthetic data set, and for data of the inverse dynamics of human arm movements and an actual 7 degree-of-freedom anthropomorphic robot arm. 

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link (url) [BibTex]

link (url) [BibTex]