Autonomous manipulation in unstructured environments will enable a large variety of exciting and important applications. Despite its promise, autonomous manipulation remains largely unsolved. Even the most rudimentary manipulation task—such as removing objects from a pile—remains challenging for robots. We identify three major challenges that must be addressed to enable autonomous manipulation:
object segmentation, action selection, and motion generation. These challenges become more pronounced when unknown man-made or natural objects are cluttered together in a pile.We present a system capable of manipulating unknown objects in such an environment. Our robot is tasked with clearing a table by removing objects from a pile and placing
them into a bin. To that end, we address the three aforementioned challenges. Our robot perceives the environment with an RGB-D sensor, segmenting the pile into object hypotheses using non-parametric surface models. Our system then computes the affordances of each object, and selects the best
affordance and its associated action to execute. Finally, our robot instantiates the proper compliant motion primitive to safely execute the desired action. For efficient and reliable action selection, we developed a framework for supervised learning of manipulation expertise.To verify the performance
of our system, we conducted dozens of trials and report on several hours of experiments involving more than 1,500 interactions. The results show that our learning-based approach for pile manipulation outperforms a common sense heuristic as well as a random strategy, and is on par with human action selection.