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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R031193/1
Title: Humanlike physics understanding for autonomous robots
Principal Investigator: Cohn, Professor AG
Other Investigators:
Mon-Williams, Professor M Dogar, Dr MR Wang, Dr H
Mushtaq, Dr F Leonetti, Dr M
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Dubit Limited Ocado Group The Shadow Robot Company
Department: Sch of Computing
Organisation: University of Leeds
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 01 April 2018 Ends: 28 February 2021 Value (£): 303,127
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Artificial Intelligence
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
31 Oct 2017 Human-like Computing Interviews Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
How do you grasp a bottle of milk, nestling behind some yoghurt pots, within a cluttered fridge? Whilst humans are able to use visual information to plan and select such skilled actions with external objects with great ease and rapidity - a facility acquired in the history of the species and as a child develops - *robots struggle*. Indeed, whilst artificial intelligence has made great leaps in beating the best of humanity in tasks such as chess and Go, the planning and execution abilities of today's robotic technology is trumped by the average toddler. Given the complex and unpredictable world within which we find ourselves situated, these apparently trivial tasks are the product of highly sophisticated neural computations that generalise and adapt to changing situations: continually engaging in a process of selecting between multiple goals and action options. Our aim is to investigate how such computations could be transferred to robots to enable them to manipulate objects more efficiently, in a more human-like way than is presently the case, and to be able to perform manipulation presently beyond the state of the art.

Let us return to the fridge example: You need to first decide what yoghurt pot is best to remove to allow access to the milk bottle and then generate the appropriate movements to grasp the pot safely- the *pre-contact *phase of prehension. You then need to decide what type of forces to apply to the pot (push it to the left or the right, nudge it or possibly lift it up and place the pot on another shelf etc) i.e. the *contact* phase. Whilst these steps happen with speed and automaticity in real time, we will probe these processes in laboratory controlled situations to systematically examine the pre-contact and contact phases of prehension to determine what factors (spatial position, size of pot, texture of pot etc) bias humans to choose one action (or series of actions) over other possibilities. We hypothesise that we can extract a set of high level rules, expressed using qualitative spatio-temporal formalisms which can capture the essence of such expertise, in combination with more quantitative lower-level representations and reasoning.

We will develop a computational model to provide a formal foundation for testing hypotheses about the factors biasing behaviour and ultimately use this model to predict the behaviour that will most probably occur in response to a given perceptual (visual) input in this context. We reason that a computational understanding of how humans perform these actions can bridge the robot-human skill gap.

State-of-the-art robot motion/manipulation planners use probabilistic methods (random sampling e.g. RRTs, PRMs, is the dominant motion planning approach in the field today). Hence, planners are not able to explain their decisions, similar to the "black box" machine learning methods mentioned in the call which produce inscrutable models. However, if robots can generate human-like interactions with the world, and if they can use knowledge of human action selection for planning, then this would allow robots to explain why they perform manipulations in a particular way, and also facilitate "legible manipulation" - i.e. action which is predictable by humans since it closely corresponds to how humans would behave, a goal of some recent research in the robotics community.

The work will shed light on the use of perceptual information in the control of action - a topic of great academic interest and simultaneously have direct relevance to a number of practical problems facing roboticists seeking to control robots working in cluttered environments: from a robot picking items in a warehouse, to novel surgical technologies requiring discrimination between healthy and cancerous tissue.

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Organisation Website: http://www.leeds.ac.uk