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Catching heuristics are optimal control policies
Boris Belousov · Gerhard Neumann · Constantin Rothkopf · Jan Peters

Mon Dec 05 09:00 AM -- 12:30 PM (PST) @ Area 5+6+7+8 #131

Two seemingly contradictory theories attempt to explain how humans move to intercept an airborne ball. One theory posits that humans predict the ball trajectory to optimally plan future actions; the other claims that, instead of performing such complicated computations, humans employ heuristics to reactively choose appropriate actions based on immediate visual feedback. In this paper, we show that interception strategies appearing to be heuristics can be understood as computational solutions to the optimal control problem faced by a ball-catching agent acting under uncertainty. Modeling catching as a continuous partially observable Markov decision process and employing stochastic optimal control theory, we discover that the four main heuristics described in the literature are optimal solutions if the catcher has sufficient time to continuously visually track the ball. Specifically, by varying model parameters such as noise, time to ground contact, and perceptual latency, we show that different strategies arise under different circumstances. The catcher's policy switches between generating reactive and predictive behavior based on the ratio of system to observation noise and the ratio between reaction time and task duration. Thus, we provide a rational account of human ball-catching behavior and a unifying explanation for seemingly contradictory theories of target interception on the basis of stochastic optimal control.

Author Information

Boris Belousov (TU Darmstadt)
Gerhard Neumann (University of Lincoln)
Constantin Rothkopf (TU Darmstadt)
Jan Peters (TU Darmstadt & MPI Intelligent Systems)

Jan Peters is a full professor (W3) for Intelligent Autonomous Systems at the Computer Science Department of the Technische Universitaet Darmstadt and at the same time a senior research scientist and group leader at the Max-Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, where he heads the interdepartmental Robot Learning Group. Jan Peters has received the Dick Volz Best 2007 US PhD Thesis Runner-Up Award, the Robotics: Science & Systems - Early Career Spotlight, the INNS Young Investigator Award, and the IEEE Robotics & Automation Society‘s Early Career Award as well as numerous best paper awards. In 2015, he was awarded an ERC Starting Grant. Jan Peters has studied Computer Science, Electrical, Mechanical and Control Engineering at TU Munich and FernUni Hagen in Germany, at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the University of Southern California (USC). He has received four Master‘s degrees in these disciplines as well as a Computer Science PhD from USC.

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