Grasping objects with environmentally induced position uncertainty

Vassilios N. Christopoulos, Paul R. Schrater

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Due to noisy motor commands and imprecise and ambiguous sensory information, there is often substantial uncertainty about the relative location between our body and objects in the environment. Little is known about how well people manage and compensate for this uncertainty in purposive movement tasks like grasping. Grasping objects requires reach trajectories to generate object-fingers contacts that permit stable lifting. For objects with position uncertainty, some trajectories are more efficient than others in terms of the probability of producing stable grasps. We hypothesize that people attempt to generate efficient grasp trajectories that produce stable grasps at first contact without requiring post-contact adjustments. We tested this hypothesis by comparing human uncertainty compensation in grasping objects against optimal predictions. Participants grasped and lifted a cylindrical object with position uncertainty, introduced by moving the cylinder with a robotic arm over a sequence of 5 positions sampled from a strongly oriented 2D Gaussian distribution. Preceding each reach, vision of the object was removed for the remainder of the trial and the cylinder was moved one additional time. In accord with optimal predictions, we found that people compensate by aligning the approach direction with covariance angle to maintain grasp efficiency. This compensation results in higher probability to achieve stable grasps at first contact than non-compensation strategies in grasping objects with directional position uncertainty, and the results provide the first demonstration that humans compensate for uncertainty in a complex purposive task.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1000538
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2009

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