RoboCraft: Learning to See, Simulate, and Shape Elasto-Plastic Objects with Graph Networks
Haochen Shi *1
Huazhe Xu *1
Zhiao Huang 2
Yunzhu Li 3
Jiajun Wu 1
1 Stanford University
2 UC San Diego
3 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
* Equal contribution

RSS 2022



Modeling and manipulating elasto-plastic objects are essential capabilities for robots to perform complex industrial and household interaction tasks (e.g., stuffing and pinching dumplings, rolling sushi, making pottery). However, due to the high degree of freedom of the elasto-plastic objects, significant challenges exist in virtually every aspect of the robotic manipula- tion pipeline, e.g., representing the states, modeling the dynamics, and synthesizing the control signals. We propose to tackle these challenges by employing a particle-based representation for elasto-plastic objects in a model-based planning framework. Our system, RoboCraft, only assumes access to raw RGBD visual observations, where we transform the sensing data into particles and learn a particle-based dynamics model using graph neural networks (GNNs) to capture the structure of the underlying system. The learned model can then be coupled with model- predictive control (MPC) algorithms to plan the robot’s behavior. We have shown through experiments that with just 10 minutes of real-world robotic interaction data, our robot can learn a dynamics model capable of synthesizing control signals to deform the elasto-plastic objects into various target shapes, including shapes that the robot has never encountered before. We provide systematic evaluations in both simulation and the real world to demonstrate the robot’s capabilities in manipulation and generalization to a more complex action space, different tool shapes, and a mixture of motion modes. We have also conducted comparisons between the robot and untrained human subjects on controlling the gripper to manipulate the deformable object in both simulation and the real world. Our learned model- based planning framework is comparable with and sometimes better than human subjects on the tested tasks.

Full Video



Our framework RoboCraft consists of three components. The first is a particle-based scene representation module that learns to ''see'' the plasticine. The second is a GNN-based model that ''simulates'' the object's dynamics. The third is a gradient- and sampling-based model predictive control module that learns to ''shape'' the plasticine.

Simulation Results

RoboCraft shaping results in simulation.

Results on a Real Robot

Human Comparisons

We compare RoboCraft with human subjects in both simulation and real-world experiments. In the simulator, human subjects control the gripper using a mouse-keyboard setup. In the real world, human subjects control the robot arm directly with robot human guiding mode. We find that RoboCraft can achieve better or comparable performance.


H. Shi*, H. Xu*, Z. Huang, Y. Li, J. Wu
RoboCraft: Learning to See, Simulate, and Shape Elasto-Plastic Objects with Graph Networks
RSS, 2022.


Related Work

  1. Li et al. "Visual Grounding of Learned Physical Models", in ICML 2020
  2. Huang et al. "PlasticineLab: A Soft-Body Manipulation Benchmark with Differentiable Physics", in ICLR 2021
  3. Chen et al. "Deformable Elasto-Plastic Object Shaping using an Elastic Hand and Model-Based Reinforcement Learning", in IROS 2021


We would thank Samuel Clark for discussion. This template was originally made by Phillip Isola and Richard Zhang for a colorful ECCV project; the code can be found here.