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2020


Physical Variables Underlying Tactile Stickiness during Fingerpad Detachment
Physical Variables Underlying Tactile Stickiness during Fingerpad Detachment

Nam, S., Vardar, Y., Gueorguiev, D., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

Frontiers in Neuroscience, 14(235):1-14, April 2020 (article)

Abstract
One may notice a relatively wide range of tactile sensations even when touching the same hard, flat surface in similar ways. Little is known about the reasons for this variability, so we decided to investigate how the perceptual intensity of light stickiness relates to the physical interaction between the skin and the surface. We conducted a psychophysical experiment in which nine participants actively pressed their finger on a flat glass plate with a normal force close to 1.5 N and detached it after a few seconds. A custom-designed apparatus recorded the contact force vector and the finger contact area during each interaction as well as pre- and post-trial finger moisture. After detaching their finger, participants judged the stickiness of the glass using a nine-point scale. We explored how sixteen physical variables derived from the recorded data correlate with each other and with the stickiness judgments of each participant. These analyses indicate that stickiness perception mainly depends on the pre-detachment pressing duration, the time taken for the finger to detach, and the impulse in the normal direction after the normal force changes sign; finger-surface adhesion seems to build with pressing time, causing a larger normal impulse during detachment and thus a more intense stickiness sensation. We additionally found a strong between-subjects correlation between maximum real contact area and peak pull-off force, as well as between finger moisture and impulse.

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link (url) DOI Project Page [BibTex]


Learning to Predict Perceptual Distributions of Haptic Adjectives
Learning to Predict Perceptual Distributions of Haptic Adjectives

Richardson, B. A., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

Frontiers in Neurorobotics, 13(116):1-16, Febuary 2020 (article)

Abstract
When humans touch an object with their fingertips, they can immediately describe its tactile properties using haptic adjectives, such as hardness and roughness; however, human perception is subjective and noisy, with significant variation across individuals and interactions. Recent research has worked to provide robots with similar haptic intelligence but was focused on identifying binary haptic adjectives, ignoring both attribute intensity and perceptual variability. Combining ordinal haptic adjective labels gathered from human subjects for a set of 60 objects with features automatically extracted from raw multi-modal tactile data collected by a robot repeatedly touching the same objects, we designed a machine-learning method that incorporates partial knowledge of the distribution of object labels into training; then, from a single interaction, it predicts a probability distribution over the set of ordinal labels. In addition to analyzing the collected labels (10 basic haptic adjectives) and demonstrating the quality of our method's predictions, we hold out specific features to determine the influence of individual sensor modalities on the predictive performance for each adjective. Our results demonstrate the feasibility of modeling both the intensity and the variation of haptic perception, two crucial yet previously neglected components of human haptic perception.

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DOI Project Page [BibTex]


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Exercising with Baxter: Preliminary Support for Assistive Social-Physical Human-Robot Interaction

Fitter, N. T., Mohan, M., Kuchenbecker, K. J., Johnson, M. J.

Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, 17(19), Febuary 2020 (article)

Abstract
Background: The worldwide population of older adults will soon exceed the capacity of assisted living facilities. Accordingly, we aim to understand whether appropriately designed robots could help older adults stay active at home. Methods: Building on related literature as well as guidance from experts in game design, rehabilitation, and physical and occupational therapy, we developed eight human-robot exercise games for the Baxter Research Robot, six of which involve physical human-robot contact. After extensive iteration, these games were tested in an exploratory user study including 20 younger adult and 20 older adult users. Results: Only socially and physically interactive games fell in the highest ranges for pleasantness, enjoyment, engagement, cognitive challenge, and energy level. Our games successfully spanned three different physical, cognitive, and temporal challenge levels. User trust and confidence in Baxter increased significantly between pre- and post-study assessments. Older adults experienced higher exercise, energy, and engagement levels than younger adults, and women rated the robot more highly than men on several survey questions. Conclusions: The results indicate that social-physical exercise with a robot is more pleasant, enjoyable, engaging, cognitively challenging, and energetic than similar interactions that lack physical touch. In addition to this main finding, researchers working in similar areas can build on our design practices, our open-source resources, and the age-group and gender differences that we found.

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DOI Project Page [BibTex]

DOI Project Page [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]

2018


Softness, Warmth, and Responsiveness Improve Robot Hugs
Softness, Warmth, and Responsiveness Improve Robot Hugs

Block, A. E., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

International Journal of Social Robotics, 11(1):49-64, October 2018 (article)

Abstract
Hugs are one of the first forms of contact and affection humans experience. Due to their prevalence and health benefits, roboticists are naturally interested in having robots one day hug humans as seamlessly as humans hug other humans. This project's purpose is to evaluate human responses to different robot physical characteristics and hugging behaviors. Specifically, we aim to test the hypothesis that a soft, warm, touch-sensitive PR2 humanoid robot can provide humans with satisfying hugs by matching both their hugging pressure and their hugging duration. Thirty relatively young and rather technical participants experienced and evaluated twelve hugs with the robot, divided into three randomly ordered trials that focused on physical robot characteristics (single factor, three levels) and nine randomly ordered trials with low, medium, and high hug pressure and duration (two factors, three levels each). Analysis of the results showed that people significantly prefer soft, warm hugs over hard, cold hugs. Furthermore, users prefer hugs that physically squeeze them and release immediately when they are ready for the hug to end. Taking part in the experiment also significantly increased positive user opinions of robots and robot use.

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link (url) DOI Project Page [BibTex]

2018


link (url) DOI Project Page [BibTex]


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Task-Driven PCA-Based Design Optimization of Wearable Cutaneous Devices

Pacchierotti, C., Young, E. M., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, 3(3):2214-2221, July 2018, Presented at ICRA 2018 (article)

Abstract
Small size and low weight are critical requirements for wearable and portable haptic interfaces, making it essential to work toward the optimization of their sensing and actuation systems. This paper presents a new approach for task-driven design optimization of fingertip cutaneous haptic devices. Given one (or more) target tactile interactions to render and a cutaneous device to optimize, we evaluate the minimum number and best configuration of the device’s actuators to minimize the estimated haptic rendering error. First, we calculate the motion needed for the original cutaneous device to render the considered target interaction. Then, we run a principal component analysis (PCA) to search for possible couplings between the original motor inputs, looking also for the best way to reconfigure them. If some couplings exist, we can re-design our cutaneous device with fewer motors, optimally configured to render the target tactile sensation. The proposed approach is quite general and can be applied to different tactile sensors and cutaneous devices. We validated it using a BioTac tactile sensor and custom plate-based 3-DoF and 6-DoF fingertip cutaneous devices, considering six representative target tactile interactions. The algorithm was able to find couplings between each device’s motor inputs, proving it to be a viable approach to optimize the design of wearable and portable cutaneous devices. Finally, we present two examples of optimized designs for our 3-DoF fingertip cutaneous device.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [BibTex]


Teaching a Robot Bimanual Hand-Clapping Games via Wrist-Worn {IMU}s
Teaching a Robot Bimanual Hand-Clapping Games via Wrist-Worn IMUs

Fitter, N. T., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

Frontiers in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, 5(85), July 2018 (article)

Abstract
Colleagues often shake hands in greeting, friends connect through high fives, and children around the world rejoice in hand-clapping games. As robots become more common in everyday human life, they will have the opportunity to join in these social-physical interactions, but few current robots are intended to touch people in friendly ways. This article describes how we enabled a Baxter Research Robot to both teach and learn bimanual hand-clapping games with a human partner. Our system monitors the user's motions via a pair of inertial measurement units (IMUs) worn on the wrists. We recorded a labeled library of 10 common hand-clapping movements from 10 participants; this dataset was used to train an SVM classifier to automatically identify hand-clapping motions from previously unseen participants with a test-set classification accuracy of 97.0%. Baxter uses these sensors and this classifier to quickly identify the motions of its human gameplay partner, so that it can join in hand-clapping games. This system was evaluated by N = 24 naïve users in an experiment that involved learning sequences of eight motions from Baxter, teaching Baxter eight-motion game patterns, and completing a free interaction period. The motion classification accuracy in this less structured setting was 85.9%, primarily due to unexpected variations in motion timing. The quantitative task performance results and qualitative participant survey responses showed that learning games from Baxter was significantly easier than teaching games to Baxter, and that the teaching role caused users to consider more teamwork aspects of the gameplay. Over the course of the experiment, people felt more understood by Baxter and became more willing to follow the example of the robot. Users felt uniformly safe interacting with Baxter, and they expressed positive opinions of Baxter and reported fun interacting with the robot. Taken together, the results indicate that this robot achieved credible social-physical interaction with humans and that its ability to both lead and follow systematically changed the human partner's experience.

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DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


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Nonlinear decoding of a complex movie from the mammalian retina

Botella-Soler, V., Deny, S., Martius, G., Marre, O., Tkačik, G.

PLOS Computational Biology, 14(5):1-27, Public Library of Science, May 2018 (article)

Abstract
Author summary Neurons in the retina transform patterns of incoming light into sequences of neural spikes. We recorded from ∼100 neurons in the rat retina while it was stimulated with a complex movie. Using machine learning regression methods, we fit decoders to reconstruct the movie shown from the retinal output. We demonstrated that retinal code can only be read out with a low error if decoders make use of correlations between successive spikes emitted by individual neurons. These correlations can be used to ignore spontaneous spiking that would, otherwise, cause even the best linear decoders to “hallucinate” nonexistent stimuli. This work represents the first high resolution single-trial full movie reconstruction and suggests a new paradigm for separating spontaneous from stimulus-driven neural activity.

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DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


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Automatically Rating Trainee Skill at a Pediatric Laparoscopic Suturing Task

Oquendo, Y. A., Riddle, E. W., Hiller, D., Blinman, T. A., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

Surgical Endoscopy, 32(4):1840-1857, April 2018 (article)

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DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


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Immersive Low-Cost Virtual Reality Treatment for Phantom Limb Pain: Evidence from Two Cases

Ambron, E., Miller, A., Kuchenbecker, K. J., Buxbaum, L. J., Coslett, H. B.

Frontiers in Neurology, 9(67):1-7, 2018 (article)

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DOI Project Page [BibTex]

DOI Project Page [BibTex]

2015


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Novel plasticity rule can explain the development of sensorimotor intelligence

Der, R., Martius, G.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(45):E6224-E6232, 2015 (article)

Abstract
Grounding autonomous behavior in the nervous system is a fundamental challenge for neuroscience. In particular, self-organized behavioral development provides more questions than answers. Are there special functional units for curiosity, motivation, and creativity? This paper argues that these features can be grounded in synaptic plasticity itself, without requiring any higher-level constructs. We propose differential extrinsic plasticity (DEP) as a new synaptic rule for self-learning systems and apply it to a number of complex robotic systems as a test case. Without specifying any purpose or goal, seemingly purposeful and adaptive rhythmic behavior is developed, displaying a certain level of sensorimotor intelligence. These surprising results require no system-specific modifications of the DEP rule. They rather arise from the underlying mechanism of spontaneous symmetry breaking, which is due to the tight brain body environment coupling. The new synaptic rule is biologically plausible and would be an interesting target for neurobiological investigation. We also argue that this neuronal mechanism may have been a catalyst in natural evolution.

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link (url) DOI Project Page [BibTex]

2015


link (url) DOI Project Page [BibTex]


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Quantifying Emergent Behavior of Autonomous Robots

Martius, G., Olbrich, E.

Entropy, 17(10):7266, 2015 (article)

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [BibTex]

2013


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Information Driven Self-Organization of Complex Robotic Behaviors

Martius, G., Der, R., Ay, N.

PLoS ONE, 8(5):e63400, Public Library of Science, 2013 (article)

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

2013


link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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Linear combination of one-step predictive information with an external reward in an episodic policy gradient setting: a critical analysis

Zahedi, K., Martius, G., Ay, N.

Frontiers in Psychology, 4(801), 2013 (article)

Abstract
One of the main challenges in the field of embodied artificial intelligence is the open-ended autonomous learning of complex behaviours. Our approach is to use task-independent, information-driven intrinsic motivation(s) to support task-dependent learning. The work presented here is a preliminary step in which we investigate the predictive information (the mutual information of the past and future of the sensor stream) as an intrinsic drive, ideally supporting any kind of task acquisition. Previous experiments have shown that the predictive information (PI) is a good candidate to support autonomous, open-ended learning of complex behaviours, because a maximisation of the PI corresponds to an exploration of morphology- and environment-dependent behavioural regularities. The idea is that these regularities can then be exploited in order to solve any given task. Three different experiments are presented and their results lead to the conclusion that the linear combination of the one-step PI with an external reward function is not generally recommended in an episodic policy gradient setting. Only for hard tasks a great speed-up can be achieved at the cost of an asymptotic performance lost.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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Robustness of guided self-organization against sensorimotor disruptions

Martius, G.

Advances in Complex Systems, 16(02n03):1350001, 2013 (article)

Abstract
Self-organizing processes are crucial for the development of living beings. Practical applications in robots may benefit from the self-organization of behavior, e.g.~to increase fault tolerance and enhance flexibility, provided that external goals can also be achieved. We present results on the guidance of self-organizing control by visual target stimuli and show a remarkable robustness to sensorimotor disruptions. In a proof of concept study an autonomous wheeled robot is learning an object finding and ball-pushing task from scratch within a few minutes in continuous domains. The robustness is demonstrated by the rapid recovery of the performance after severe changes of the sensor configuration.

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DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]