Abstract: Automatically synthesizing behaviors for robots with articulated bodies poses a number of challenges beyond those encountered when generating behaviors for simpler agents. One such challenge is how to optimize a controller that can orchestrate dynamic motion of different parts of the body at different times. This paper presents an incremental shaping method that addresses this challenge: it trains a controller to both coordinate a robot’s leg motions to achieve directed locomotion toward an object, and then coordinate gripper motion to achieve lifting once the object is reached. It is shown that success is dependent on the order in which these behaviors are learned, and that despite the fact that one robot can master these behaviors better than another with a different morphology, this learning order is invariant across the two robot morphologies investigated here. This suggests that aspects of the task environment, learning algorithm or the controller dictate learning order more than the choice of morphology.
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Bongard's work focuses on understanding the general nature of cognition, regardless of whether it is found in humans, animals or robots. This unique approach focuses on the role that morphology and evolution plays in cognition. Addressing these questions has taken him into the fields of biology, psychology, engineering and computer science.
Danforth is an applied mathematician interested in modeling a variety of physical, biological, and social phenomenon. He has applied principles of chaos theory to improve weather forecasts as a member of the Mathematics and Climate Research Network, and developed a real-time remote sensor of global happiness using messages from Twitter: the Hedonometer. Danforth co-runs the Computational Story Lab with Peter Dodds, and helps run UVM's reading group on complexity.
Laurent studies the interaction of structure and dynamics. His research involves network theory, statistical physics and nonlinear dynamics along with their applications in epidemiology, ecology, biology, and sociology. Recent projects include comparing complex networks of different nature, the coevolution of human behavior and infectious diseases, understanding the role of forest shape in determining stability of tropical forests, as well as the impact of echo chambers in political discussions.
Hines' work broadly focuses on finding ways to make electric energy more reliable, more affordable, with less environmental impact. Particular topics of interest include understanding the mechanisms by which small problems in the power grid become large blackouts, identifying and mitigating the stresses caused by large amounts of electric vehicle charging, and quantifying the impact of high penetrations of wind/solar on electricity systems.
Bagrow's interests include: Complex Networks (community detection, social modeling and human dynamics, statistical phenomena, graph similarity and isomorphism), Statistical Physics (non-equilibrium methods, phase transitions, percolation, interacting particle systems, spin glasses), and Optimization(glassy techniques such as simulated/quantum annealing, (non-gradient) minimization of noisy objective functions).