Towards a Causal Probabilistic Framework for Prediction, Action-Selection & Explanations for Robot Block-Stacking Tasks

11 Aug 2023  ·  Ricardo Cannizzaro, Jonathan Routley, Lars Kunze ·

Uncertainties in the real world mean that is impossible for system designers to anticipate and explicitly design for all scenarios that a robot might encounter. Thus, robots designed like this are fragile and fail outside of highly-controlled environments. Causal models provide a principled framework to encode formal knowledge of the causal relationships that govern the robot's interaction with its environment, in addition to probabilistic representations of noise and uncertainty typically encountered by real-world robots. Combined with causal inference, these models permit an autonomous agent to understand, reason about, and explain its environment. In this work, we focus on the problem of a robot block-stacking task due to the fundamental perception and manipulation capabilities it demonstrates, required by many applications including warehouse logistics and domestic human support robotics. We propose a novel causal probabilistic framework to embed a physics simulation capability into a structural causal model to permit robots to perceive and assess the current state of a block-stacking task, reason about the next-best action from placement candidates, and generate post-hoc counterfactual explanations. We provide exemplar next-best action selection results and outline planned experimentation in simulated and real-world robot block-stacking tasks.

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