Inferring Object Properties from Incidental Contact with a Tactile-Sensing Forearm

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Bhattacharjee, Tapomayukh
Rehg, James M.
Kemp, Charles C.
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Whole-arm tactile sensing enables a robot to sense properties of contact across its entire arm. By using this large sensing area, a robot has the potential to acquire useful information from incidental contact that occurs while performing a task. Within this paper, we demonstrate that data-driven methods can be used to infer mechanical properties of objects from incidental contact with a robot’s forearm. We collected data from a tactile-sensing forearm as it made contact with various objects during a simple reaching motion. We then used hidden Markov models (HMMs) to infer two object properties (rigid vs. soft and fixed vs. movable) based on low-dimensional features of time-varying tactile sensor data (maximum force, contact area, and contact motion). A key issue is the extent to which data-driven methods can generalize to robot actions that differ from those used during training. To investigate this issue, we developed an idealized mechanical model of a robot with a compliant joint making contact with an object. This model provides intuition for the classification problem. We also conducted tests in which we varied the robot arm’s velocity and joint stiffness. We found that, in contrast to our previous methods [1], multivariate HMMs achieved high cross-validation accuracy and successfully generalized what they had learned to new robot motions with distinct velocities and joint stiffnesses.
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