DIFFTACTILE: A Physics-based Differentiable Tactile Simulator for Contact-rich Robotic Manipulation

Published: 16 Jan 2024, Last Modified: 13 Mar 2024ICLR 2024 posterEveryoneRevisionsBibTeX
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Keywords: Tactile sensing, Simulation, Robotic manipulation
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Abstract: We introduce DIFFTACTILE, a physics-based differentiable tactile simulation system designed to enhance robotic manipulation with dense and physically accurate tactile feedback. In contrast to prior tactile simulators which primarily focus on manipulating rigid bodies and often rely on simplified approximations to model stress and deformations of materials in contact, DIFFTACTILE emphasizes physics-based contact modeling with high fidelity, supporting simulations of diverse contact modes and interactions with objects possessing a wide range of material properties. Our system incorporates several key components, including a Finite Element Method (FEM)-based soft body model for simulating the sensing elastomer, a multi-material simulator for modeling diverse object types (such as elastic, elastoplastic, cables) under manipulation, a penalty-based contact model for handling contact dynamics. The differentiable nature of our system facilitates gradient-based optimization for both 1) refining physical properties in simulation using real-world data, hence narrowing the sim-to-real gap and 2) efficient learning of tactile-assisted grasping and contact-rich manipulation skills. Additionally, we introduce a method to infer the optical response of our tactile sensor to contact using an efficient pixel-based neural module. We anticipate that DIFFTACTILE will serve as a useful platform for studying contact-rich manipulations, leveraging the benefits of dense tactile feedback and differentiable physics. Code and supplementary materials are available at the project website https://difftactile.github.io/.
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Primary Area: applications to robotics, autonomy, planning
Submission Number: 6440