Advancing Robot Autonomy for Long-Horizon Tasks

Autonomous robots have real-world applications in diverse fields, such as mobile manipulation and environmental exploration, and many such tasks benefit from a hands-off approach in terms of human user involvement over a long task horizon. However, the level of autonomy achievable by a deployment is limited in part by the problem definition or task specification required by the system. Task specifications often require technical, low-level information that is unintuitive to describe and may result in generic solutions, burdening the user technically both before and after task completion. In this thesis, we aim to advance task specification abstraction toward the goal of increasing robot autonomy in real-world scenarios. We do so by tackling problems that address several different angles of this goal. First, we develop a way for the automatic discovery of optimal transition points between subtasks in the context of constrained mobile manipulation, removing the need for the human to hand-specify these in the task specification. We further propose a way to automatically describe constraints on robot motion by using demonstrated data as opposed to manually-defined constraints. Then, within the context of environmental exploration, we propose a flexible task specification framework, requiring just a set of quantiles of interest from the user that allows the robot to directly suggest locations in the environment for the user to study. We next systematically study the effect of including a robot team in the task specification and show that multirobot teams have the ability to improve performance under certain specification conditions, including enabling inter-robot communication. Finally, we propose methods for a communication protocol that autonomously selects useful but limited information to share with the other robots.


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