Talks and presentations

Thesis Proposal: Learning Mobile Manipulation

January 25, 2020

Talk, Columbia University, New York, New York

Providing mobile robots with the ability to manipulate objects has, despite decades of research, remained a challenging problem. The problem is approachable in constrained environments where there is ample prior knowledge of the environment and objects that will be manipulated. The challenge is in building systems that scale beyond specific situational instances and gracefully operate in novel conditions. In the past, heuristic and simple rule based strategies were used to accomplish tasks such as scene segmentation or reasoning about occlusion. These heuristic strategies work in constrained environments where a roboticist can make simplifying assumptions about everything from the geometries of the objects to be interacted with, level of clutter, camera position, lighting, and a myriad of other relevant variables. In this thesis we will demonstrate how a system for mobile manipulation can be built that is robust to changes in these variables. This robustness will be enabled by recent simultaneous advances in the fields of Big Data, Deep Learning, and Simulation. The ability of simulators to create realistic sensory data enables the generation of massive corpora of labeled training data for various grasping and navigation based tasks. We will show that it is now possible to build systems that works in the real world trained using deep learning almost entirely on synthetic data. The ability to train and test on synthetic data allows for quick iterative development of new perception, planning and grasp execution algorithms that work in a large number of environments.

Candidacy Exam: Simulation for Real World Robotics

May 05, 2019

Talk, Candidacy Exam, New York, New York


Real world robotics is a multifarious process spanning several fields including simulation, semantic/scene understanding, reinforcement learning, domain randomization, just to name a few. Ideally simulators would accurately capture the real world perfectly in a much faster capacity allowing for a predictive power of how a robot will interact with its environment. Unfortunately, simulators neither have the speed nor accuracy to support this. Simulators, such as Gazebo, Webots, and OpenRave, are supplemented with machine learned models of their environment to solve specific tasks such as scene understanding and path planning. This can be compared to a physical only solution which can be costly in terms of price and time. Advances in virtual reality allow for new ways for humans to provide training data for robotic systems in simulation. Using modern datasets such as SUNCG and Matterport3D we now have more ability than ever to train robots in virtual environments. Through understanding modern applications of simulations, better robotic platforms can be designed to solve some of the most pressing challenges of modern robotics.