A force-mediated controller for cooperative object manipulation with independent autonomous robots

ABOVE – A: A robot collective transports an unknown object following a leader’s guidance. B: Two helper robots handle a small rigid object, guided by a human leader’s force applied to one corner (blue arrow). The left-hand robot experiences a single multi-dimensional wrench at its end-effector, with no disambiguation of components resulting from the leader, the object’s inertial properties, and forces due to the other agent. C: Physical testing of cooperative manipulation of a basket, using a Franka Emika Panda. D: An example application scenario: a robot helps a human manipulate a load in a challenging field situation of installing solar panels.

AbstractWe consider cooperative manipulation by multiple robots assisting a leader, when information about the manipulation task, environment, and team of helpers is unavailable, and without the use of explicit communication. The shared object being manipulated serves as a physical channel for coordination, with robots sensing forces associated with its movement. Robots minimize force conflicts, which are unavoidable under these restrictions, by inferring an intended context: decomposing the object’s motion into a task space of allowed motion and a null space in which perturbations are rejected. The leader can signal a change in context by applying a sustained strong force in an intended new direction. We present a controller, prove its stability, and demonstrate its utility through experiments with (a) an in-lab force-sensitive robot assisting a human operator and (b) a multi-robot collective in simulation.

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AT RIGHT: A video demonstration of contextual interpretation of control force using dimensional constraints, and other aspects of this research publication.

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