Model predictive control for fast reaching in clutter


Clutter, Haptic, MPC, Multi-contact


A key challenge for haptically reaching in dense clutter is the frequent contact that can occur between the robot’s arm and the environment. We have previously used single-time-step model predictive control (MPC) to enable a robot to slowly reach into dense clutter using a quasistatic mechanical model. Rapid reaching in clutter would be desirable, but entails additional challenges due to dynamic phenomena that can lead to higher forces from impacts and other types of contact. In this paper, we present a multi-time-step MPC formulation that enables a robot to rapidly reach a target position in dense clutter, while regulating whole-body contact forces to be below a given threshold. Our controller models the dynamics of the arm in contact with the environment in order to predict how contact forces will change and how the robot’s end effector will move. It also models how joint velocities will influence potential impact forces. At each time step, our controller uses linear models to generate a convex optimization problem that it can solve efficiently. Through tens of thousands of trials in simulation, we show that with our dynamic MPC a simulated robot can, on average, reach goals 1.4 to 2 times faster than our previous controller, while attaining comparable success rates and fewer occurrences of high forces. We also conducted trials using a real 7 degree-of-freedom (DoF) humanoid robot arm with whole-arm tactile sensing. Our controller enabled the robot to rapidly reach target positions in dense artificial foliage while keeping contact forces low.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Autonomous Robots




Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology


Mechanical Engineering

University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor