NRI: Multilateral Manipulation by Human-Robot Collaborative Systems

We are currently working on a collaborative research grant funded by the National Science Foundation (National Robotics Initiative 1227277)

Principal Investigators

  • Allison Okamura, Stanford University
  • Pieter Abbeel, University of California – Berkeley
  • Ken Goldberg, University of California – Berkeley
  • Greg Hager, Johns Hopkins University
  • Blake Hannaford, University of Washington
  • Jacob Rosen, University of California – Santa Cruz


This project addresses a large space of manipulation problems that are repetitive, injury-causing, or dangerous for humans to perform, yet are currently impossible to reliably achieve with purely autonomous robots. These problems generally require dexterity, complex perception, and complex physical interaction. Yet, many such problems can be reliably addressed with human/robot collaborative (HRC) systems, where one or more humans provide needed perception and adaptability, working with one or more robot systems that provide speed, precision, accuracy, and dexterity at an appropriate scale, combining these complementary capabilities.

The project focuses on multilateral manipulation, which arises when a human controls one or more robot manipulators in partnership with one or more additional controllers (humans or autonomous agents). Complex operations in surgery and manufacturing can benefit from the extra degrees of freedom provided by more than two hands, and training often depends on hands-on interaction between expert and apprentice. Example applications include surgical operations, which typically involve several physicians and assistants, and other medical tasks such as turning a patient in bed and wrapping a cast to constrain a hand. Multilateral manipulation also applies in manufacturing, for example for threading wires or cables, aligning gaskets to obtain a tight seal, and in many household situations, such as folding tablecloths, wrapping packages, and zipping overfilled suitcases so they will fit inside diabolically-designed overhead airline compartments. Multilateral manipulation often arises with deformable materials or multi-jointed objects with more than six degrees of freedom (DOF). The extra DOFs in materials introduce challenges such as computational complexity, but they also can accommodate minor inconsistencies through redundancy and provide system damping. This project advances the fundamental science of multilateral manipulation guided by specific applications from surgery and manufacturing.

Broader Impacts: Multilateral manipulation systems have the potential to improve healthcare, improve American competitiveness and product quality in manufacturing, and open the door to new service robot applications in the home. The project will be guided by an Advisory Board of experts from industry and medical practice. Project results will be disseminated through yearly conference workshops, open-source software tools integrated into common robotics software environments such as Robot Operating System (ROS), and the investigators’ research and course webpages, to encourage integration of our approach into research projects and courses at many institutions. Outreach programs, public lab tours, and mentoring of minority students will broaden participation of underrepresented groups in engineering. These activities will encourage participation in STEM activities and provide student and postdoctoral researchers with mentoring experience.

Funded Projects

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