Guided teaching interactions with robots: embodied queries and teaching heuristics

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Cakmak, Maya
Thomaz, Andrea L.
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The vision of personal robot assistants continues to become more realistic with technological advances in robotics. The increase in the capabilities of robots, presents boundless opportunities for them to perform useful tasks for humans. However, it is not feasible for engineers to program robots for all possible uses. Instead, we envision general-purpose robots that can be programmed by their end-users. Learning from Demonstration (LfD), is an approach that allows users to program new capabilities on a robot by demonstrating what is required from the robot. Although LfD has become an established area of Robotics, many challenges remain in making it effective and intuitive for naive users. This thesis contributes to addressing these challenges in several ways. First, the problems that occur in teaching-learning interactions between humans and robots are characterized through human-subject experiments in three different domains. To address these problems, two mechanisms for guiding human teachers in their interactions are developed: embodied queries and teaching heuristics. Embodied queries, inspired from Active Learning queries, are questions asked by the robot so as to steer the teacher towards providing more informative demonstrations. They leverage the robot's embodiment to physically manipulate the environment and to communicate the question. Two technical contributions are made in developing embodied queries. The first is Active Keyframe-based LfD -- a framework for learning human-segmented skills in continuous action spaces and producing four different types of embodied queries to improve learned skills. The second is Intermittently-Active Learning in which a learner makes queries selectively, so as to create balanced interactions with the benefits of fully-active learning. Empirical findings from five experiments with human subjects are presented. These identify interaction-related issues in generating embodied queries, characterize human question asking, and evaluate implementations of Intermittently-Active Learning and Active Keyframe-based LfD on the humanoid robot Simon. The second mechanism, teaching heuristics, is a set of instructions given to human teachers in order to elicit more informative demonstrations from them. Such instructions are devised based on an understanding of what constitutes an optimal teacher for a given learner, with techniques grounded in Algorithmic Teaching. The utility of teaching heuristics is empirically demonstrated through six human-subject experiments, that involve teaching different concepts or tasks to a virtual agent, or teaching skills to Simon. With a diverse set of human subject experiments, this thesis demonstrates the necessity for guiding humans in teaching interactions with robots, and verifies the utility of two proposed mechanisms in improving sample efficiency and final performance, while enhancing the user interaction.
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