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Robots Learn to Push Heavy Objects With Their Bodies, Just Like You

The payload of a robot is a well-defined number that usually refers to how much mass its actuators or mobility system can comfortably support. The payload of a human works in a similar way, except that sometimes we can cheat, by offloading the mass of an object to the ground, and moving it purely by overcoming friction and shoving it along. For very heavy objects, doing this involves using the weight and stability of our whole bodies as well as our muscles, and robots are learning to do this, too. At ICRA 2015 last week, researchers from University of Tokyo’s JSK Laboratory led by Professors Masayuki Inaba and Kei Okada presented a paper on whole-body pushing manipulation with contact posture planning. Or, shoving things. For humans, shoving things can be somewhat complicated, because there are a lot of different ways that a heavy object (like a big crate) can be shoved. You can put your shoulder against it and shove, put your hip against it and shove, or if it’s really heavy, lean against it with your back and shove with your legs.”

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