What do four UBC computer science researchers have in common with the musician Sting?
They have all been obsessed with watching and understanding every single step taken.
When Sting sang the lyric “Every step you take…” in his 1983 smash hit Every Breath You Take, he couldn’t possibly have imagined how machine learning could help him simulate his subject’s steps with great precision via computer animation. It would have made his watching a lot easier.
When it comes to walking in environments that have difficulties or constraints, such as stepping-stones that might be used to walk across a muddy field, we humans are highly adept. Computers have to actually learn these techniques. This was the subject of research for Professor Michiel van de Panne of the UBC Department of Computer Science and three of his graduate students.
They recently published "ALLSTEPS: Curriculum-driven Learning of Stepping Stone Skills” which won Best Paper Award at SCA 2020, the annual ACM SIGGRAPH/Eurographics Symposium on Computer Animation. The event was held online October 6-9, 2020, hosted from Montreal.
Michiel’s three co-authors are Zhaoming Xie and Hung Yu Ling (co-first authors and both PhD students) and Nam Hee Gordon Kim (an MSc student).
Together with Michiel, they won the prestigious award for their work which shows that the skills required to navigate challenging stepping sequences can be successfully learned via practice in physics-based simulation. Their solution leverages deep reinforcement learning together with a curriculum that introduces practice scenarios of gradually increasing difficulty.
The results have implications for computer animation, where it aims to provide simulated characters with the movement intelligence of humans, and for robotics, where the technology could be used to endow bipedal robots with flexible locomotion skills.
“We believe that the simplicity of our key findings, in retrospect, will allow the method to be readily applicable to learning other types of skills.” said Professor van de Panne.
That’s a huge step in the right direction for computer animation.
The SCA 2020 (ACM SIGGRAPH/Eurographics Symposium on Computer Animation),
co-sponsored by ACM SIGGRAPH and Eurographics, is the premier conference dedicated to computer animation research.
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