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2019


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Learning Multi-Human Optical Flow

Ranjan, A., Hoffmann, D. T., Tzionas, D., Tang, S., Romero, J., Black, M. J.

International Journal of Computer Vision (IJCV), December 2019 (article)

Abstract
The optical flow of humans is well known to be useful for the analysis of human action. Recent optical flow methods focus on training deep networks to approach the problem. However, the training data used by them does not cover the domain of human motion. Therefore, we develop a dataset of multi-human optical flow and train optical flow networks on this dataset. We use a 3D model of the human body and motion capture data to synthesize realistic flow fields in both single-and multi-person images. We then train optical flow networks to estimate human flow fields from pairs of images. We demonstrate that our trained networks are more accurate than a wide range of top methods on held-out test data and that they can generalize well to real image sequences. The code, trained models and the dataset are available for research.

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Paper Publisher Version poster link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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Decoding subcategories of human bodies from both body- and face-responsive cortical regions

Foster, C., Zhao, M., Romero, J., Black, M. J., Mohler, B. J., Bartels, A., Bülthoff, I.

NeuroImage, 202(15):116085, November 2019 (article)

Abstract
Our visual system can easily categorize objects (e.g. faces vs. bodies) and further differentiate them into subcategories (e.g. male vs. female). This ability is particularly important for objects of social significance, such as human faces and bodies. While many studies have demonstrated category selectivity to faces and bodies in the brain, how subcategories of faces and bodies are represented remains unclear. Here, we investigated how the brain encodes two prominent subcategories shared by both faces and bodies, sex and weight, and whether neural responses to these subcategories rely on low-level visual, high-level visual or semantic similarity. We recorded brain activity with fMRI while participants viewed faces and bodies that varied in sex, weight, and image size. The results showed that the sex of bodies can be decoded from both body- and face-responsive brain areas, with the former exhibiting more consistent size-invariant decoding than the latter. Body weight could also be decoded in face-responsive areas and in distributed body-responsive areas, and this decoding was also invariant to image size. The weight of faces could be decoded from the fusiform body area (FBA), and weight could be decoded across face and body stimuli in the extrastriate body area (EBA) and a distributed body-responsive area. The sex of well-controlled faces (e.g. excluding hairstyles) could not be decoded from face- or body-responsive regions. These results demonstrate that both face- and body-responsive brain regions encode information that can distinguish the sex and weight of bodies. Moreover, the neural patterns corresponding to sex and weight were invariant to image size and could sometimes generalize across face and body stimuli, suggesting that such subcategorical information is encoded with a high-level visual or semantic code.

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paper pdf DOI [BibTex]

paper pdf DOI [BibTex]


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AirCap – Aerial Outdoor Motion Capture

Ahmad, A., Price, E., Tallamraju, R., Saini, N., Lawless, G., Ludwig, R., Martinovic, I., Bülthoff, H. H., Black, M. J.

IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS 2019), Workshop on Aerial Swarms, November 2019 (misc)

Abstract
This paper presents an overview of the Grassroots project Aerial Outdoor Motion Capture (AirCap) running at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems. AirCap's goal is to achieve markerless, unconstrained, human motion capture (mocap) in unknown and unstructured outdoor environments. To that end, we have developed an autonomous flying motion capture system using a team of aerial vehicles (MAVs) with only on-board, monocular RGB cameras. We have conducted several real robot experiments involving up to 3 aerial vehicles autonomously tracking and following a person in several challenging scenarios using our approach of active cooperative perception developed in AirCap. Using the images captured by these robots during the experiments, we have demonstrated a successful offline body pose and shape estimation with sufficiently high accuracy. Overall, we have demonstrated the first fully autonomous flying motion capture system involving multiple robots for outdoor scenarios.

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Talk slides Project Page Project Page [BibTex]

Talk slides Project Page Project Page [BibTex]


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Active Perception based Formation Control for Multiple Aerial Vehicles

Tallamraju, R., Price, E., Ludwig, R., Karlapalem, K., Bülthoff, H. H., Black, M. J., Ahmad, A.

IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, Robotics and Automation Letters, 4(4):4491-4498, IEEE, October 2019 (article)

Abstract
We present a novel robotic front-end for autonomous aerial motion-capture (mocap) in outdoor environments. In previous work, we presented an approach for cooperative detection and tracking (CDT) of a subject using multiple micro-aerial vehicles (MAVs). However, it did not ensure optimal view-point configurations of the MAVs to minimize the uncertainty in the person's cooperatively tracked 3D position estimate. In this article, we introduce an active approach for CDT. In contrast to cooperatively tracking only the 3D positions of the person, the MAVs can actively compute optimal local motion plans, resulting in optimal view-point configurations, which minimize the uncertainty in the tracked estimate. We achieve this by decoupling the goal of active tracking into a quadratic objective and non-convex constraints corresponding to angular configurations of the MAVs w.r.t. the person. We derive this decoupling using Gaussian observation model assumptions within the CDT algorithm. We preserve convexity in optimization by embedding all the non-convex constraints, including those for dynamic obstacle avoidance, as external control inputs in the MPC dynamics. Multiple real robot experiments and comparisons involving 3 MAVs in several challenging scenarios are presented.

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pdf DOI Project Page [BibTex]

pdf DOI Project Page [BibTex]


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Method for providing a three dimensional body model

Loper, M., Mahmood, N., Black, M.

September 2019, U.S.~Patent 10,417,818 (misc)

Abstract
A method for providing a three-dimensional body model which may be applied for an animation, based on a moving body, wherein the method comprises providing a parametric three-dimensional body model, which allows shape and pose variations; applying a standard set of body markers; optimizing the set of body markers by generating an additional set of body markers and applying the same for providing 3D coordinate marker signals for capturing shape and pose of the body and dynamics of soft tissue; and automatically providing an animation by processing the 3D coordinate marker signals in order to provide a personalized three-dimensional body model, based on estimated shape and an estimated pose of the body by means of predicted marker locations.

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MoSh Project pdf [BibTex]


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3D Morphable Face Models - Past, Present and Future

Egger, B., Smith, W. A. P., Tewari, A., Wuhrer, S., Zollhoefer, M., Beeler, T., Bernard, F., Bolkart, T., Kortylewski, A., Romdhani, S., Theobalt, C., Blanz, V., Vetter, T.

arxiv preprint arXiv:1909.01815, September 2019 (article)

Abstract
In this paper, we provide a detailed survey of 3D Morphable Face Models over the 20 years since they were first proposed. The challenges in building and applying these models, namely capture, modeling, image formation,and image analysis, are still active research topics, and we review the state-of-the-art in each of these areas. We also look ahead, identifying unsolved challenges, proposing directions for future research and highlighting the broad range of current and future applications.

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paper project page [BibTex]

paper project page [BibTex]


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Learning and Tracking the 3D Body Shape of Freely Moving Infants from RGB-D sequences

Hesse, N., Pujades, S., Black, M., Arens, M., Hofmann, U., Schroeder, S.

Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence (TPAMI), 2019 (article)

Abstract
Statistical models of the human body surface are generally learned from thousands of high-quality 3D scans in predefined poses to cover the wide variety of human body shapes and articulations. Acquisition of such data requires expensive equipment, calibration procedures, and is limited to cooperative subjects who can understand and follow instructions, such as adults. We present a method for learning a statistical 3D Skinned Multi-Infant Linear body model (SMIL) from incomplete, low-quality RGB-D sequences of freely moving infants. Quantitative experiments show that SMIL faithfully represents the RGB-D data and properly factorizes the shape and pose of the infants. To demonstrate the applicability of SMIL, we fit the model to RGB-D sequences of freely moving infants and show, with a case study, that our method captures enough motion detail for General Movements Assessment (GMA), a method used in clinical practice for early detection of neurodevelopmental disorders in infants. SMIL provides a new tool for analyzing infant shape and movement and is a step towards an automated system for GMA.

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pdf Journal DOI [BibTex]

pdf Journal DOI [BibTex]


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Perceptual Effects of Inconsistency in Human Animations

Kenny, S., Mahmood, N., Honda, C., Black, M. J., Troje, N. F.

ACM Trans. Appl. Percept., 16(1):2:1-2:18, Febuary 2019 (article)

Abstract
The individual shape of the human body, including the geometry of its articulated structure and the distribution of weight over that structure, influences the kinematics of a person’s movements. How sensitive is the visual system to inconsistencies between shape and motion introduced by retargeting motion from one person onto the shape of another? We used optical motion capture to record five pairs of male performers with large differences in body weight, while they pushed, lifted, and threw objects. From these data, we estimated both the kinematics of the actions as well as the performer’s individual body shape. To obtain consistent and inconsistent stimuli, we created animated avatars by combining the shape and motion estimates from either a single performer or from different performers. Using these stimuli we conducted three experiments in an immersive virtual reality environment. First, a group of participants detected which of two stimuli was inconsistent. Performance was very low, and results were only marginally significant. Next, a second group of participants rated perceived attractiveness, eeriness, and humanness of consistent and inconsistent stimuli, but these judgements of animation characteristics were not affected by consistency of the stimuli. Finally, a third group of participants rated properties of the objects rather than of the performers. Here, we found strong influences of shape-motion inconsistency on perceived weight and thrown distance of objects. This suggests that the visual system relies on its knowledge of shape and motion and that these components are assimilated into an altered perception of the action outcome. We propose that the visual system attempts to resist inconsistent interpretations of human animations. Actions involving object manipulations present an opportunity for the visual system to reinterpret the introduced inconsistencies as a change in the dynamics of an object rather than as an unexpected combination of body shape and body motion.

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publisher pdf DOI [BibTex]

publisher pdf DOI [BibTex]


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Perceiving Systems (2016-2018)
Scientific Advisory Board Report, 2019 (misc)

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pdf [BibTex]

pdf [BibTex]


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The Virtual Caliper: Rapid Creation of Metrically Accurate Avatars from 3D Measurements

Pujades, S., Mohler, B., Thaler, A., Tesch, J., Mahmood, N., Hesse, N., Bülthoff, H. H., Black, M. J.

IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 25, pages: 1887,1897, IEEE, 2019 (article)

Abstract
Creating metrically accurate avatars is important for many applications such as virtual clothing try-on, ergonomics, medicine, immersive social media, telepresence, and gaming. Creating avatars that precisely represent a particular individual is challenging however, due to the need for expensive 3D scanners, privacy issues with photographs or videos, and difficulty in making accurate tailoring measurements. We overcome these challenges by creating “The Virtual Caliper”, which uses VR game controllers to make simple measurements. First, we establish what body measurements users can reliably make on their own body. We find several distance measurements to be good candidates and then verify that these are linearly related to 3D body shape as represented by the SMPL body model. The Virtual Caliper enables novice users to accurately measure themselves and create an avatar with their own body shape. We evaluate the metric accuracy relative to ground truth 3D body scan data, compare the method quantitatively to other avatar creation tools, and perform extensive perceptual studies. We also provide a software application to the community that enables novices to rapidly create avatars in fewer than five minutes. Not only is our approach more rapid than existing methods, it exports a metrically accurate 3D avatar model that is rigged and skinned.

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Project Page IEEE Open Access IEEE Open Access PDF DOI [BibTex]

Project Page IEEE Open Access IEEE Open Access PDF DOI [BibTex]


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Automated Generation of Reactive Programs from Human Demonstration for Orchestration of Robot Behaviors

Berenz, V., Bjelic, A., Mainprice, J.

ArXiv, 2019 (article)

Abstract
Social robots or collaborative robots that have to interact with people in a reactive way are difficult to program. This difficulty stems from the different skills required by the programmer: to provide an engaging user experience the behavior must include a sense of aesthetics while robustly operating in a continuously changing environment. The Playful framework allows composing such dynamic behaviors using a basic set of action and perception primitives. Within this framework, a behavior is encoded as a list of declarative statements corresponding to high-level sensory-motor couplings. To facilitate non-expert users to program such behaviors, we propose a Learning from Demonstration (LfD) technique that maps motion capture of humans directly to a Playful script. The approach proceeds by identifying the sensory-motor couplings that are active at each step using the Viterbi path in a Hidden Markov Model (HMM). Given these activation patterns, binary classifiers called evaluations are trained to associate activations to sensory data. Modularity is increased by clustering the sensory-motor couplings, leading to a hierarchical tree structure. The novelty of the proposed approach is that the learned behavior is encoded not in terms of trajectories in a task space, but as couplings between sensory information and high-level motor actions. This provides advantages in terms of behavioral generalization and reactivity displayed by the robot.

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Support Video link (url) [BibTex]

2014


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Wenn es was zu sagen gibt

(Klaus Tschira Award 2014 in Computer Science)

Trimpe, S.

Bild der Wissenschaft, pages: 20-23, November 2014, (popular science article in German) (article)

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PDF Project Page [BibTex]

2014


PDF Project Page [BibTex]


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MoSh: Motion and Shape Capture from Sparse Markers

Loper, M. M., Mahmood, N., Black, M. J.

ACM Transactions on Graphics, (Proc. SIGGRAPH Asia), 33(6):220:1-220:13, ACM, New York, NY, USA, November 2014 (article)

Abstract
Marker-based motion capture (mocap) is widely criticized as producing lifeless animations. We argue that important information about body surface motion is present in standard marker sets but is lost in extracting a skeleton. We demonstrate a new approach called MoSh (Motion and Shape capture), that automatically extracts this detail from mocap data. MoSh estimates body shape and pose together using sparse marker data by exploiting a parametric model of the human body. In contrast to previous work, MoSh solves for the marker locations relative to the body and estimates accurate body shape directly from the markers without the use of 3D scans; this effectively turns a mocap system into an approximate body scanner. MoSh is able to capture soft tissue motions directly from markers by allowing body shape to vary over time. We evaluate the effect of different marker sets on pose and shape accuracy and propose a new sparse marker set for capturing soft-tissue motion. We illustrate MoSh by recovering body shape, pose, and soft-tissue motion from archival mocap data and using this to produce animations with subtlety and realism. We also show soft-tissue motion retargeting to new characters and show how to magnify the 3D deformations of soft tissue to create animations with appealing exaggerations.

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pdf video data pdf from publisher link (url) DOI Project Page Project Page Project Page [BibTex]

pdf video data pdf from publisher link (url) DOI Project Page Project Page Project Page [BibTex]


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Can I recognize my body’s weight? The influence of shape and texture on the perception of self

Piryankova, I., Stefanucci, J., Romero, J., de la Rosa, S., Black, M., Mohler, B.

ACM Transactions on Applied Perception for the Symposium on Applied Perception, 11(3):13:1-13:18, September 2014 (article)

Abstract
The goal of this research was to investigate women’s sensitivity to changes in their perceived weight by altering the body mass index (BMI) of the participants’ personalized avatars displayed on a large-screen immersive display. We created the personalized avatars with a full-body 3D scanner that records both the participants’ body geometry and texture. We altered the weight of the personalized avatars to produce changes in BMI while keeping height, arm length and inseam fixed and exploited the correlation between body geometry and anthropometric measurements encapsulated in a statistical body shape model created from thousands of body scans. In a 2x2 psychophysical experiment, we investigated the relative importance of visual cues, namely shape (own shape vs. an average female body shape with equivalent height and BMI to the participant) and texture (own photo-realistic texture or checkerboard pattern texture) on the ability to accurately perceive own current body weight (by asking them ‘Is the avatar the same weight as you?’). Our results indicate that shape (where height and BMI are fixed) had little effect on the perception of body weight. Interestingly, the participants perceived their body weight veridically when they saw their own photo-realistic texture and significantly underestimated their body weight when the avatar had a checkerboard patterned texture. The range that the participants accepted as their own current weight was approximately a 0.83 to −6.05 BMI% change tolerance range around their perceived weight. Both the shape and the texture had an effect on the reported similarity of the body parts and the whole avatar to the participant’s body. This work has implications for new measures for patients with body image disorders, as well as researchers interested in creating personalized avatars for games, training applications or virtual reality.

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pdf DOI Project Page Project Page [BibTex]

pdf DOI Project Page Project Page [BibTex]


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Robotics and Neuroscience

Floreano, Dario, Ijspeert, Auke Jan, Schaal, S.

Current Biology, 24(18):R910-R920, sep 2014 (article)

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[BibTex]

[BibTex]


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Breathing Life into Shape: Capturing, Modeling and Animating 3D Human Breathing

Tsoli, A., Mahmood, N., Black, M. J.

ACM Transactions on Graphics, (Proc. SIGGRAPH), 33(4):52:1-52:11, ACM, New York, NY, July 2014 (article)

Abstract
Modeling how the human body deforms during breathing is important for the realistic animation of lifelike 3D avatars. We learn a model of body shape deformations due to breathing for different breathing types and provide simple animation controls to render lifelike breathing regardless of body shape. We capture and align high-resolution 3D scans of 58 human subjects. We compute deviations from each subject’s mean shape during breathing, and study the statistics of such shape changes for different genders, body shapes, and breathing types. We use the volume of the registered scans as a proxy for lung volume and learn a novel non-linear model relating volume and breathing type to 3D shape deformations and pose changes. We then augment a SCAPE body model so that body shape is determined by identity, pose, and the parameters of the breathing model. These parameters provide an intuitive interface with which animators can synthesize 3D human avatars with realistic breathing motions. We also develop a novel interface for animating breathing using a spirometer, which measures the changes in breathing volume of a “breath actor.”

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pdf video link (url) DOI Project Page Project Page Project Page [BibTex]


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Nonmyopic View Planning for Active Object Classification and Pose Estimation

Atanasov, N., Sankaran, B., Le Ny, J., Pappas, G., Daniilidis, K.

IEEE Transactions on Robotics, May 2014, clmc (article)

Abstract
One of the central problems in computer vision is the detection of semantically important objects and the estimation of their pose. Most of the work in object detection has been based on single image processing and its performance is limited by occlusions and ambiguity in appearance and geometry. This paper proposes an active approach to object detection by controlling the point of view of a mobile depth camera. When an initial static detection phase identifies an object of interest, several hypotheses are made about its class and orientation. The sensor then plans a sequence of viewpoints, which balances the amount of energy used to move with the chance of identifying the correct hypothesis. We formulate an active M-ary hypothesis testing problem, which includes sensor mobility, and solve it using a point-based approximate POMDP algorithm. The validity of our approach is verified through simulation and real-world experiments with the PR2 robot. The results suggest a significant improvement over static object detection

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Web pdf link (url) [BibTex]

Web pdf link (url) [BibTex]


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3D Traffic Scene Understanding from Movable Platforms

Geiger, A., Lauer, M., Wojek, C., Stiller, C., Urtasun, R.

IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence (PAMI), 36(5):1012-1025, published, IEEE, Los Alamitos, CA, May 2014 (article)

Abstract
In this paper, we present a novel probabilistic generative model for multi-object traffic scene understanding from movable platforms which reasons jointly about the 3D scene layout as well as the location and orientation of objects in the scene. In particular, the scene topology, geometry and traffic activities are inferred from short video sequences. Inspired by the impressive driving capabilities of humans, our model does not rely on GPS, lidar or map knowledge. Instead, it takes advantage of a diverse set of visual cues in the form of vehicle tracklets, vanishing points, semantic scene labels, scene flow and occupancy grids. For each of these cues we propose likelihood functions that are integrated into a probabilistic generative model. We learn all model parameters from training data using contrastive divergence. Experiments conducted on videos of 113 representative intersections show that our approach successfully infers the correct layout in a variety of very challenging scenarios. To evaluate the importance of each feature cue, experiments using different feature combinations are conducted. Furthermore, we show how by employing context derived from the proposed method we are able to improve over the state-of-the-art in terms of object detection and object orientation estimation in challenging and cluttered urban environments.

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pdf link (url) [BibTex]

pdf link (url) [BibTex]


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Data-Driven Grasp Synthesis - A Survey

Bohg, J., Morales, A., Asfour, T., Kragic, D.

IEEE Transactions on Robotics, 30, pages: 289 - 309, IEEE, April 2014 (article)

Abstract
We review the work on data-driven grasp synthesis and the methodologies for sampling and ranking candidate grasps. We divide the approaches into three groups based on whether they synthesize grasps for known, familiar or unknown objects. This structure allows us to identify common object representations and perceptual processes that facilitate the employed data-driven grasp synthesis technique. In the case of known objects, we concentrate on the approaches that are based on object recognition and pose estimation. In the case of familiar objects, the techniques use some form of a similarity matching to a set of previously encountered objects. Finally for the approaches dealing with unknown objects, the core part is the extraction of specific features that are indicative of good grasps. Our survey provides an overview of the different methodologies and discusses open problems in the area of robot grasping. We also draw a parallel to the classical approaches that rely on analytic formulations.

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PDF link (url) DOI Project Page [BibTex]

PDF link (url) DOI Project Page [BibTex]


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Local Gaussian Regression

Meier, F., Hennig, P., Schaal, S.

arXiv preprint, March 2014, clmc (misc)

Abstract
Abstract: Locally weighted regression was created as a nonparametric learning method that is computationally efficient, can learn from very large amounts of data and add data incrementally. An interesting feature of locally weighted regression is that it can work with ...

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Web link (url) [BibTex]

Web link (url) [BibTex]


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Adaptive Offset Correction for Intracortical Brain Computer Interfaces

Homer, M. L., Perge, J. A., Black, M. J., Harrison, M. T., Cash, S. S., Hochberg, L. R.

IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering, 22(2):239-248, March 2014 (article)

Abstract
Intracortical brain computer interfaces (iBCIs) decode intended movement from neural activity for the control of external devices such as a robotic arm. Standard approaches include a calibration phase to estimate decoding parameters. During iBCI operation, the statistical properties of the neural activity can depart from those observed during calibration, sometimes hindering a user’s ability to control the iBCI. To address this problem, we adaptively correct the offset terms within a Kalman filter decoder via penalized maximum likelihood estimation. The approach can handle rapid shifts in neural signal behavior (on the order of seconds) and requires no knowledge of the intended movement. The algorithm, called MOCA, was tested using simulated neural activity and evaluated retrospectively using data collected from two people with tetraplegia operating an iBCI. In 19 clinical research test cases, where a nonadaptive Kalman filter yielded relatively high decoding errors, MOCA significantly reduced these errors (10.6 ± 10.1\%; p < 0.05, pairwise t-test). MOCA did not significantly change the error in the remaining 23 cases where a nonadaptive Kalman filter already performed well. These results suggest that MOCA provides more robust decoding than the standard Kalman filter for iBCIs.

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pdf DOI Project Page [BibTex]

pdf DOI Project Page [BibTex]


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A Limiting Property of the Matrix Exponential

Trimpe, S., D’Andrea, R.

IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control, 59(4):1105-1110, 2014 (article)

am ics

PDF DOI [BibTex]

PDF DOI [BibTex]


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Event-Based State Estimation With Variance-Based Triggering

Trimpe, S., D’Andrea, R.

IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control, 59(12):3266-3281, 2014 (article)

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PDF Supplementary material DOI Project Page [BibTex]

PDF Supplementary material DOI Project Page [BibTex]


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A freely-moving monkey treadmill model

Foster, J., Nuyujukian, P., Freifeld, O., Gao, H., Walker, R., Ryu, S., Meng, T., Murmann, B., Black, M., Shenoy, K.

J. of Neural Engineering, 11(4):046020, 2014 (article)

Abstract
Objective: Motor neuroscience and brain-machine interface (BMI) design is based on examining how the brain controls voluntary movement, typically by recording neural activity and behavior from animal models. Recording technologies used with these animal models have traditionally limited the range of behaviors that can be studied, and thus the generality of science and engineering research. We aim to design a freely-moving animal model using neural and behavioral recording technologies that do not constrain movement. Approach: We have established a freely-moving rhesus monkey model employing technology that transmits neural activity from an intracortical array using a head-mounted device and records behavior through computer vision using markerless motion capture. We demonstrate the excitability and utility of this new monkey model, including the fi rst recordings from motor cortex while rhesus monkeys walk quadrupedally on a treadmill. Main results: Using this monkey model, we show that multi-unit threshold-crossing neural activity encodes the phase of walking and that the average ring rate of the threshold crossings covaries with the speed of individual steps. On a population level, we find that neural state-space trajectories of walking at diff erent speeds have similar rotational dynamics in some dimensions that evolve at the step rate of walking, yet robustly separate by speed in other state-space dimensions. Significance: Freely-moving animal models may allow neuroscientists to examine a wider range of behaviors and can provide a flexible experimental paradigm for examining the neural mechanisms that underlie movement generation across behaviors and environments. For BMIs, freely-moving animal models have the potential to aid prosthetic design by examining how neural encoding changes with posture, environment, and other real-world context changes. Understanding this new realm of behavior in more naturalistic settings is essential for overall progress of basic motor neuroscience and for the successful translation of BMIs to people with paralysis.

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pdf Supplementary DOI Project Page [BibTex]

pdf Supplementary DOI Project Page [BibTex]


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Perspective: Intelligent Systems: Bits and Bots

Spatz, J. P., Schaal, S.

Nature, (509), 2014, clmc (article)

Abstract
What is intelligence, and can we create it? Animals can perceive, reason, react and learn, but they are just one example of an intelligent system. Intelligent systems could be robots as large as humans, helping with search-and- rescue operations in dangerous places, or smart devices as tiny as a cell, delivering drugs to a target within the body. Even computing systems can be intelligent, by perceiving the world, crawling the web and processing â??big dataâ?? to extract and learn from complex information.Understanding not only how intelligence can be reproduced, but also how to build systems that put these ideas into practice, will be a challenge. Small intelligent systems will require new materials and fabrication methods, as well as com- pact information processors and power sources. And for nano-sized systems, the rules change altogether. The laws of physics operate very differently at tiny scales: for a nanorobot, swimming through water is like struggling through treacle.Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems have begun to solve these problems by developing new computational methods, experiment- ing with unique robotic systems and fabricating tiny, artificial propellers, like bacterial flagella, to propel nanocreations through their environment.

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PDF link (url) [BibTex]

PDF link (url) [BibTex]


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An autonomous manipulation system based on force control and optimization

Righetti, L., Kalakrishnan, M., Pastor, P., Binney, J., Kelly, J., Voorhies, R. C., Sukhatme, G. S., Schaal, S.

Autonomous Robots, 36(1-2):11-30, January 2014 (article)

Abstract
In this paper we present an architecture for autonomous manipulation. Our approach is based on the belief that contact interactions during manipulation should be exploited to improve dexterity and that optimizing motion plans is useful to create more robust and repeatable manipulation behaviors. We therefore propose an architecture where state of the art force/torque control and optimization-based motion planning are the core components of the system. We give a detailed description of the modules that constitute the complete system and discuss the challenges inherent to creating such a system. We present experimental results for several grasping and manipulation tasks to demonstrate the performance and robustness of our approach.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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Learning of grasp selection based on shape-templates

Herzog, A., Pastor, P., Kalakrishnan, M., Righetti, L., Bohg, J., Asfour, T., Schaal, S.

Autonomous Robots, 36(1-2):51-65, January 2014 (article)

Abstract
The ability to grasp unknown objects still remains an unsolved problem in the robotics community. One of the challenges is to choose an appropriate grasp configuration, i.e., the 6D pose of the hand relative to the object and its finger configuration. In this paper, we introduce an algorithm that is based on the assumption that similarly shaped objects can be grasped in a similar way. It is able to synthesize good grasp poses for unknown objects by finding the best matching object shape templates associated with previously demonstrated grasps. The grasp selection algorithm is able to improve over time by using the information of previous grasp attempts to adapt the ranking of the templates to new situations. We tested our approach on two different platforms, the Willow Garage PR2 and the Barrett WAM robot, which have very different hand kinematics. Furthermore, we compared our algorithm with other grasp planners and demonstrated its superior performance. The results presented in this paper show that the algorithm is able to find good grasp configurations for a large set of unknown objects from a relatively small set of demonstrations, and does improve its performance over time.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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A Quantitative Analysis of Current Practices in Optical Flow Estimation and the Principles behind Them

Sun, D., Roth, S., Black, M. J.

International Journal of Computer Vision (IJCV), 106(2):115-137, 2014 (article)

Abstract
The accuracy of optical flow estimation algorithms has been improving steadily as evidenced by results on the Middlebury optical flow benchmark. The typical formulation, however, has changed little since the work of Horn and Schunck. We attempt to uncover what has made recent advances possible through a thorough analysis of how the objective function, the optimization method, and modern implementation practices influence accuracy. We discover that "classical'' flow formulations perform surprisingly well when combined with modern optimization and implementation techniques. One key implementation detail is the median filtering of intermediate flow fields during optimization. While this improves the robustness of classical methods it actually leads to higher energy solutions, meaning that these methods are not optimizing the original objective function. To understand the principles behind this phenomenon, we derive a new objective function that formalizes the median filtering heuristic. This objective function includes a non-local smoothness term that robustly integrates flow estimates over large spatial neighborhoods. By modifying this new term to include information about flow and image boundaries we develop a method that can better preserve motion details. To take advantage of the trend towards video in wide-screen format, we further introduce an asymmetric pyramid downsampling scheme that enables the estimation of longer range horizontal motions. The methods are evaluated on Middlebury, MPI Sintel, and KITTI datasets using the same parameter settings.

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pdf full text code [BibTex]

pdf full text code [BibTex]

2007


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The new robotics - towards human-centered machines

Schaal, S.

HFSP Journal Frontiers of Interdisciplinary Research in the Life Sciences, 1(2):115-126, 2007, clmc (article)

Abstract
Research in robotics has moved away from its primary focus on industrial applications. The New Robotics is a vision that has been developed in past years by our own university and many other national and international research instiutions and addresses how increasingly more human-like robots can live among us and take over tasks where our current society has shortcomings. Elder care, physical therapy, child education, search and rescue, and general assistance in daily life situations are some of the examples that will benefit from the New Robotics in the near future. With these goals in mind, research for the New Robotics has to embrace a broad interdisciplinary approach, ranging from traditional mathematical issues of robotics to novel issues in psychology, neuroscience, and ethics. This paper outlines some of the important research problems that will need to be resolved to make the New Robotics a reality.

am

link (url) [BibTex]

2007


link (url) [BibTex]

1999


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Is imitation learning the route to humanoid robots?

Schaal, S.

Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 3(6):233-242, 1999, clmc (article)

Abstract
This review will focus on two recent developments in artificial intelligence and neural computation: learning from imitation and the development of humanoid robots. It will be postulated that the study of imitation learning offers a promising route to gain new insights into mechanisms of perceptual motor control that could ultimately lead to the creation of autonomous humanoid robots. This hope is justified because imitation learning channels research efforts towards three important issues: efficient motor learning, the connection between action and perception, and modular motor control in form of movement primitives. In order to make these points, first, a brief review of imitation learning will be given from the view of psychology and neuroscience. In these fields, representations and functional connections between action and perception have been explored that contribute to the understanding of motor acts of other beings. The recent discovery that some areas in the primate brain are active during both movement perception and execution provided a first idea of the possible neural basis of imitation. Secondly, computational approaches to imitation learning will be described, initially from the perspective of traditional AI and robotics, and then with a focus on neural network models and statistical learning research. Parallels and differences between biological and computational approaches to imitation will be highlighted. The review will end with an overview of current projects that actually employ imitation learning for humanoid robots.

am

link (url) [BibTex]

1999


link (url) [BibTex]


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Segmentation of endpoint trajectories does not imply segmented control

Sternad, D., Schaal, D.

Experimental Brain Research, 124(1):118-136, 1999, clmc (article)

Abstract
While it is generally assumed that complex movements consist of a sequence of simpler units, the quest to define these units of action, or movement primitives, still remains an open question. In this context, two hypotheses of movement segmentation of endpoint trajectories in 3D human drawing movements are re-examined: (1) the stroke-based segmentation hypothesis based on the results that the proportionality coefficient of the 2/3 power law changes discontinuously with each new â??strokeâ?, and (2) the segmentation hypothesis inferred from the observation of piecewise planar endpoint trajectories of 3D drawing movements. In two experiments human subjects performed a set of elliptical and figure-8 patterns of different sizes and orientations using their whole arm in 3D. The kinematic characteristics of the endpoint trajectories and the seven joint angles of the arm were analyzed. While the endpoint trajectories produced similar segmentation features as reported in the literature, analyses of the joint angles show no obvious segmentation but rather continuous oscillatory patterns. By approximating the joint angle data of human subjects with sinusoidal trajectories, and by implementing this model on a 7-degree-of-freedom anthropomorphic robot arm, it is shown that such a continuous movement strategy can produce exactly the same features as observed by the above segmentation hypotheses. The origin of this apparent segmentation of endpoint trajectories is traced back to the nonlinear transformations of the forward kinematics of human arms. The presented results demonstrate that principles of discrete movement generation may not be reconciled with those of rhythmic movement as easily as has been previously suggested, while the generalization of nonlinear pattern generators to arm movements can offer an interesting alternative to approach the question of units of action.

am

link (url) [BibTex]

link (url) [BibTex]

1995


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Memory-based neural networks for robot learning

Atkeson, C. G., Schaal, S.

Neurocomputing, 9, pages: 1-27, 1995, clmc (article)

Abstract
This paper explores a memory-based approach to robot learning, using memory-based neural networks to learn models of the task to be performed. Steinbuch and Taylor presented neural network designs to explicitly store training data and do nearest neighbor lookup in the early 1960s. In this paper their nearest neighbor network is augmented with a local model network, which fits a local model to a set of nearest neighbors. This network design is equivalent to a statistical approach known as locally weighted regression, in which a local model is formed to answer each query, using a weighted regression in which nearby points (similar experiences) are weighted more than distant points (less relevant experiences). We illustrate this approach by describing how it has been used to enable a robot to learn a difficult juggling task. Keywords: memory-based, robot learning, locally weighted regression, nearest neighbor, local models.

am

link (url) [BibTex]

1995


link (url) [BibTex]