Visual Task Progress Estimation with Appearance Invariant Embeddings for Robot Control and Planning
One of the challenges of full autonomy is to have robots capable of manipulating its current environment to achieve another environment configuration. This paper is a step towards this challenge, focusing on the visual understanding of the task. Our approach trains a deep neural network to represent images as measurable features that are useful to estimate the progress (or phase) of a task. The training uses numerous variations of images of identical tasks when taken under the same phase index. The goal is to make the network sensitive to differences in task progress but insensitive to the appearance of the images. To this end, our method builds upon Time-Contrastive Networks (TCNs) to train a network using only discrete snapshots taken at different stages of a task. A robot can then solve long-horizon tasks by using the trained network to identify the progress of the current task and by iteratively calling a motion planner until the task is solved. We quantify the granularity achieved by the network in two simulated environments. In the first, to detect the number of objects in a scene and in the second to measure the volume of particles in a cup. Our experiments leverage this granularity to make a mobile robot move a desired number of objects into a storage area and to control the amount of pouring in a cup.