Planning in constraint space for multi-body manipulation tasks
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Robots are inherently limited by physical constraints on their link lengths, motor torques, battery power and structural rigidity. To thrive in circumstances that push these limits, such as in search and rescue scenarios, intelligent agents can use the available objects in their environment as tools. Reasoning about arbitrary objects and how they can be placed together to create useful structures such as ramps, bridges or simple machines is critical to push beyond one's physical limitations. Unfortunately, the solution space is combinatorial in the number of available objects and the configuration space of the chosen objects and the robot that uses the structure is high dimensional. To address these challenges, we propose using constraint satisfaction as a means to test the feasibility of candidate structures and adopt search algorithms in the classical planning literature to find sufficient designs. The key idea is that the interactions between the components of a structure can be encoded as equality and inequality constraints on the configuration spaces of the respective objects. Furthermore, constraints that are induced by a broadly defined action, such as placing an object on another, can be grouped together using logical representations such as Planning Domain Definition Language (PDDL). Then, a classical planning search algorithm can reason about which set of constraints to impose on the available objects, iteratively creating a structure that satisfies the task goals and the robot constraints. To demonstrate the effectiveness of this framework, we present both simulation and real robot results with static structures such as ramps, bridges and stairs, and quasi-static structures such as lever-fulcrum simple machines.