Real2Sim2Real Transfer for Control of Cable-driven Robots via a Differentiable Physics Engine

Kun Wang, William R. Johnson, Shiyang Lu, Xiaonan Huang, Joran Booth, Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, Mridul Aanjaneya, Kostas Bekris

Tensegrity robots, composed of rigid rods and flexible cables, exhibit high strength-to-weight ratios and extreme deformations, enabling them to navigate unstructured terrain and even survive harsh impacts. However, they are hard to control due to their high dimensionality, complex dynamics, and coupled architecture. Physics-based simulation is one avenue for developing locomotion policies that can then be transferred to real robots, but modeling tensegrity robots is a complex task, so simulations experience a substantial sim2real gap. To address this issue, this paper describes a Real2Sim2Real strategy for tensegrity robots. This strategy is based on a differential physics engine that can be trained given limited data from a real robot (i.e. offline measurements and one random trajectory) and achieve a high enough accuracy to discover transferable locomotion policies. Beyond the overall pipeline, key contributions of this work include computing non-zero gradients at contact points, a loss function, and a trajectory segmentation technique that avoid conflicts in gradient evaluation during training. The proposed pipeline is demonstrated and evaluated on a real 3-bar tensegrity robot.

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