Physics-Based Causal Reasoning for Safe & Robust Next-Best Action Selection in Robot Manipulation Tasks

21 Mar 2024  ·  Ricardo Cannizzaro, Michael Groom, Jonathan Routley, Robert Osazuwa Ness, Lars Kunze ·

Safe and efficient object manipulation is a key enabler of many real-world robot applications. However, this is challenging because robot operation must be robust to a range of sensor and actuator uncertainties. In this paper, we present a physics-informed causal-inference-based framework for a robot to probabilistically reason about candidate actions in a block stacking task in a partially observable setting. We integrate a physics-based simulation of the rigid-body system dynamics with a causal Bayesian network (CBN) formulation to define a causal generative probabilistic model of the robot decision-making process. Using simulation-based Monte Carlo experiments, we demonstrate our framework's ability to successfully: (1) predict block tower stability with high accuracy (Pred Acc: 88.6%); and, (2) select an approximate next-best action for the block stacking task, for execution by an integrated robot system, achieving 94.2% task success rate. We also demonstrate our framework's suitability for real-world robot systems by demonstrating successful task executions with a domestic support robot, with perception and manipulation sub-system integration. Hence, we show that by embedding physics-based causal reasoning into robots' decision-making processes, we can make robot task execution safer, more reliable, and more robust to various types of uncertainty.

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