From First Contact to Close Encounters: A Developmentally Deep Perceptual System for a Humanoid Robot
This thesis presents a perceptual system for a humanoid robot that integrates abilities such as object localization and recognition with the deeper developmental machinery required to forge those competences out of raw physical experiences. It shows that a robotic platform can build up and maintain a system for object localization, segmentation, and recognition, starting from very little. What the robot starts with is a direct solution to achieving figure/ground separation: it simply 'pokes around' in a region of visual ambiguity and watches what happens. If the arm passes through an area, that area is recognized as free space. If the arm collides with an object, causing it to move, the robot can use that motion to segment the object from the background. Once the robot can acquire reliable segmented views of objects, it learns from them, and from then on recognizes and segments those objects without further contact. Both low-level and high-level visual features can also be learned in this way, and examples are presented for both: orientation detection and affordance recognition, respectively. The motivation for this work is simple. Training on large corpora of annotated real-world data has proven crucial for creating robust solutions to perceptual problems such as speech recognition and face detection. But the powerful tools used during training of such systems are typically stripped away at deployment. Ideally they should remain, particularly for unstable tasks such as object detection, where the set of objects needed in a task tomorrow might be different from the set of objects needed today. The key limiting factor is access to training data, but as this thesis shows, that need not be a problem on a robotic platform that can actively probe its environment, and carry out experiments to resolve ambiguity. This work is an instance of a general approach to learning a new perceptual judgment: find special situations in which the perceptual judgment is easy and study these situations to find correlated features that can be observed more generally.