Jonathan Juett and Benjamin Kuipers. 2019.
Learning and acting in peripersonal space: Moving, reaching, and grasping.
Frontiers in Neurorobotics 13:4, 2019.
doi: 10.3389/fnbot.2019.00004


The young infant explores its body, its sensorimotor system, and the immediately accessible parts of its environment, over the course of a few months creating a model of peripersonal space useful for reaching and grasping objects around it. Drawing on constraints from the empirical literature on infant behavior, we present a preliminary computational model of this learning process, implemented and evaluated on a physical robot.

The learning agent explores the relationship between the configuration space of the arm, sensing joint angles through proprioception, and its visual perceptions of the hand and grippers. The resulting knowledge is represented as the peripersonal space (PPS) graph, where nodes represent states of the arm, edges represent safe movements, and paths represent safe trajectories from one pose to another.

In our model, the learning process is driven by a form of intrinsic motivation. When repeatedly performing an action, the agent learns the typical result, but also detects unusual outcomes, and is motivated to learn how to make those unusual results reliable. Arm motions typically leave the static background unchanged, but occasionally bump an object, changing its static position. The reach action is learned as a reliable way to bump and move a specified object in the environment.

Similarly, once a reliable reach action is learned, it typically makes a quasi-static change in the environment, bumping an object from one static position to another. The unusual outcome is that the object is accidentally grasped (thanks to the innate Palmar reflex), and thereafter moves dynamically with the hand. Learning to make grasping reliable is more complex than for reaching, but we demonstrate significant progress.

Our current results are steps toward autonomous sensorimotor learning of motion, reaching, and grasping in peripersonal space, based on unguided exploration and intrinsic motivation.