PR2 Beta Sites: Spotlight on USC

BadmintonPersistent and Persuasive Personal Robots (P^3R): Towards Networked, Mobile, Assistive Robotics

The Persistent and Persuasive Personal Robots (P3R) project is a collaboration between the University of Southern California (USC), NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and the California Science Center (CSC). USC’s three major robotics labs teamed up for this effort: the Interaction Lab, the Robotic Embedded Systems Lab, and the Computational Learning and Motor Control Lab. Our vision is to enable persistent and persuasive personal robots—power-up-and-go robotic systems that operate autonomously for long periods while safely interacting with people. The team’s significant robotics expertise with open-source software development has been validated on various platforms, some mobile, some humanoid, and others a combination of the two. The PR2 will enable an integration of those major lines of work, as well as important new research, and contributions to research and to open source software.

To make robots persistent, the Robotic Embedded Systems Lab is developing software for adaptive sensor self-calibration.  The PR2 robot, for example, carries visual and inertial sensors on-board.  These sensors function as the robot's eyes and inner ears - together, they allow the PR2 to keep track of how fast it's moving, where obstacles are located, etc.  To properly combine measurements, one needs to calibrate the relative positions of the robot's cameras and the IMU.  Without accurate calibration, the sensors can 'disagree' about the motion of the robot and cause navigation problems.  Unfortunately, calibration is typically a time-consuming and labor-intensive job, which needs to be repeated frequently.  The RESL group is building a ROS software package that will allow robots like the PR2 to calibrate themselves, in the background, while performing other tasks.

To make robots personal, the Computational Learning and Motor Control Lab is interested in teaching the PR2 motor skills by imitation learning, and building skill libraries. Reinforcement learning will then be used to refine and build more complex skills. The team's goal is to enable the PR2 to learn new tasks from imitation, and improve the robot's task execution using trial-and-error.  Additionally, the team is interested in learning behaviors that allow for safer and more robust task execution. Along these lines, the team will investigate grasping and manipulation with the PR2’s arms and grippers.  They will also study the interplay of visual perception (attention, object recognition, object localization) and mobile manipulation.  In particular, the group will investigate how perception guides movement and how movement can be used to improve perception.  Furthermore, the team will work on learning task level controllers that also enable the PR2 to accomplish mobile manipulation tasks such as opening a door.  The overarching goal is to develop methods that enable a complex autonomous robotic system such as the PR2 to learn a variety of skills and perform them reliably in complex environments.

Finally, to make robots persuasive, the Interaction Lab is interested in designing adaptive systems that can facilitate free-form interaction and perform robustly in social situations with children as well as adults, able-bodied as well as those with disabilities.  To interact effectively with humans, robots should possess verbal and nonverbal communication skills, such as speech and body language.  To this end, the team will develop mechanisms for synchronized verbal and nonverbal behaviors, and provide parameterized control methods for robot gestures.  Furthermore, using the extensive sensor suite of the PR2, as well as in-house vision-based and wearable motion-tracking systems, they will identify human behaviors, and use them to improve the robot’s interactivity in human-robot interaction studies.

Team collaborators, JPL and CSC, will provide additional activities. Specifically, JPL will focus on robot vision and navigation and the CSC on outreach opportunities that will showcase the PR2 in public events.

Team photoThe Team

The USC PR2 will be shared by the Interaction, Robotic Embedded Systems, and Computational Learning and Motor Control labs.  The principal investigators are:

The team includes an excellent group of graduate students and postdocs, including the following: David Feil-Seifer, Dr. Andrew Howard, Mrinal Kalakrishnan, Jonathan Kelly, Dr. Larry Matthies, Ross Mead, Peter Pastor, Dr. Ludovic Righetti, Aaron St. Clair, and Evangelos Theodorou.


Below is a video of USC's team presenting their proposal to the rest of the PR2 Beta Program participants. You can download the slides as PDF.