The Science of Bumping Into Things

Towards Robots That Aren’t Afraid of Contact

Workshop at Robotics: Science and Systems 2022

July 1st, 2022


Handling contact is a fundamental challenge in robotics. We want robots to interact with the world to do something useful, which often requires physical interaction with the environment. Whether it is a warehouse arm picking an object from a box, a search and rescue robot walking over broken terrain, or a home assistance robot clearing the dishes, robots need to be able to enable, plan for, control through, sense, withstand, and learn about contact events. However, contact necessarily involves a sudden change in dynamics – the effects of motion while touching and almost touching can differ dramatically. Because of this, many robots seek to avoid or minimize the effects of contact, for example by slowing down before touching an object. Furthermore, robots go through great lengths to avoid unexpected contacts, by operating in controlled environments or taking excessively conservative paths around obstacles.

This workshop seeks to push the field toward a future where robots aren’t afraid of contact. Where accidentally bumping into something isn’t catastrophic, and where the robot doesn’t treat everything in the environment as if it were made of egg shells. To get there, we need to reason about contact while considering all aspects of the system design: the mechanism, sensing, control, planning, and learning must all account for the challenges of real-world contact. This is also an issue that cuts across different application domains such as manipulation or locomotion. Thus this workshop is designed to bring together researchers from across the robotics field to explore new approaches to tackling this fundamental challenge.

To get the conversation started, here is a list of topics and questions for participants to think about (but other topics within the spirit of the above description will also be considered):

  • Reactive or online planning and control to initiate and leverage contacts.
  • Robustness to expected or unexpected contact events.
  • Is a model-based structure necessary, or can unstructured learning methods succeed? What types of problems might require or benefit from structure?
  • Making sense of touch: leveraging spatially rich tactile sensing.
  • The role of design and novel shapes to control interactions.
  • Interacting with soft and deformable surfaces, and leveraging softness for robustness.
  • How does the manner (fast/slow, accidental/intentional/adversarial) or physics (soft/hard, point/surface, slippery/sticky) affect which solution(s) might be appropriate?

Invited Speakers

We are excited to have an incredible group of invited speakers from a range of research backgrounds who are all excited to share their thoughts on this theme:

Call for Contributions

We would like to invite contributed abstracts from the community that fit the themes of this workshop. Accepted abstracts will be presented as either posters or spotlight talks. Submissions may be on recently published work, upcoming papers, position papers, or work in progress. All accepted abstracts will be posted on this page. Submissions should follow the RSS paper format and should be one to two pages in length (including citations). Submissions should include a brief abstract at the start summarizing the work.

If you would like to contribute, please submit your abstract here.

Submission Deadline For full consideration for speaking slots: May 9th, 2022, with decisions by May 20th, 2022.
Late Deadline For poster-only consideration: June 6th, 2022, with decisions returned within two weeks of submission.
Workshop Date The workshop will be held on: July 1st, 2022


Subject to change.

Introduction & Welcome 8:45-9:00
Invited Talks 1, 2, & 3 9:00-10:00
Posters and coffee break 10:00-10:50
Invited Talk 4 10:50-11:10
Accepted Talk 1 11:10-11:30
Panel Discussion 1 11:30-12:00
Lunch 12:00-1:30
Accepted Talks 2 & 3 1:30-2:10
Invited Talks 5 & 6 2:10-2:50
Posters and coffee break 2:50-3:30
Invited Talks 7, 8, & 9 3:30-4:30
Panel Discussion 2 4:30-5:00