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Mechanical and Civil Engineering Seminar

Thursday, April 11, 2024
11:00am to 12:00pm
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Gates-Thomas 135
Do we really need all that data? Learning and control for contact-rich manipulation
Michael Posa, Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, University of Pennsylvania,

Mechanical and Civil Engineering Seminar Series

Title: Do we really need all that data? Learning and control for contact-rich manipulation

Abstract: For all the promise of big-data machine learning, what will happen when robots deploy to our homes and workplaces and inevitably encounter new objects, new tasks, and new environments? If a solution to every problem cannot be pre-trained, then robots will need to adapt to this novelty. Can a robot, instead, spend a few seconds to a few minutes gathering information and then accomplish a complex task? Why does it seem that so much data is required, anyway? I will first argue that the hybrid or contact-driven aspects of manipulation clashes with the inductive biases inherent in standard learning methods, driving this current need for large data. I will then show how contact-inspired implicit learning, embedding convex optimization, can reshape the loss landscape and enable more accurate training, better generalization, and ultimately data efficiency. Finally, I will present our latest results on how these learned models can be deployed via real-time multi-contact MPC for dexterous robotic manipulation, where the robot must autonomously make and break contact and initiate stick-slip transitions.

Bio: Michael Posa is an Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania. He leads the Dynamic Autonomy and Intelligent Robotics (DAIR) lab, a group within the Penn GRASP laboratory. His group focuses on developing computationally tractable algorithms to enable robots to operate both dynamically and safely as they interact with their environments. Michael received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT in 2017 and received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University in 2007. Before his doctoral studies, he worked as an engineer at Vecna Robotics. He received the NSF CAREER Award in 2023, the RSS Early Career Spotlight in 2023, a Google Faculty Research Award, and a Young Faculty Researcher Award from the Toyota Research Institute. His work has also received awards recognition at TRO, ICRA, Humanoids, and HSCC.

NOTE: At this time, in-person Mechanical and Civil Engineering Lectures are open to all Caltech students/staff/faculty/visitors.

For more information, please contact Kristen Bazua by phone at (626) 395-3385 or by email at [email protected] or visit