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Learning Pneumatic Non-Prehensile Manipulation with a Mobile Blower

IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, July 2022

Jimmy Wu, Xingyuan Sun, Andy Zeng,
Shuran Song, Szymon Rusinkiewicz, Thomas Funkhouser
We train a mobile robot using deep reinforcement learning to clean up an environment using an air blower. The blower is used to efficiently move scattered objects (orange) into the target receptacle in the corner.

We investigate pneumatic non-prehensile manipulation (i.e., blowing) as a means of efficiently moving scattered objects into a target receptacle. Due to the chaotic nature of aerodynamic forces, a blowing controller must (i) continually adapt to unexpected changes from its actions, (ii) maintain fine-grained control, since the slightest misstep can result in large unintended consequences (e.g., scatter objects already in a pile), and (iii) infer long-range plans (e.g., move the robot to strategic blowing locations). We tackle these challenges in the context of deep reinforcement learning, introducing a multi-frequency version of the spatial action maps framework. This allows for efficient learning of vision-based policies that effectively combine high-level planning and low-level closed-loop control for dynamic mobile manipulation. Experiments show that our system learns efficient behaviors for the task, demonstrating in particular that blowing achieves better downstream performance than pushing, and that our policies improve performance over baselines. Moreover, we show that our system naturally encourages emergent specialization between the different subpolicies spanning low-level fine-grained control and high-level planning. On a real mobile robot equipped with a miniature air blower, we show that our simulation-trained policies transfer well to a real environment and can generalize to novel objects.

Jimmy Wu, Xingyuan Sun, Andy Zeng, Shuran Song, Szymon Rusinkiewicz, and Thomas Funkhouser.
"Learning Pneumatic Non-Prehensile Manipulation with a Mobile Blower."
IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters 7(3):8471-8478, July 2022.


   author = "Jimmy Wu and Xingyuan Sun and Andy Zeng and Shuran Song and Szymon
      Rusinkiewicz and Thomas Funkhouser",
   title = "Learning Pneumatic Non-Prehensile Manipulation with a Mobile Blower",
   journal = "IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters",
   year = "2022",
   month = jul,
   volume = "7",
   number = "3",
   pages = "8471--8478"