Learning to Manipulate Amorphous Materials


We present a method of training character manipulation of amorphous materials such as those often used in cooking. Common examples of amorphous materials include granular materials (salt, uncooked rice), fluids (honey), and visco-plastic materials (sticky rice, softened butter). A typical task is to spread a given material out across a flat surface using a tool such as a scraper or knife. We use reinforcement learning to train our controllers to manipulate materials in various ways. The training is performed in a physics simulator that uses position-based dynamics of particles to simulate the materials to be manipulated. The neural network control policy is given observations of the material (e.g. a low-resolution density map), and the policy outputs actions such as rotating and translating the knife. We demonstrate policies that have been successfully trained to carry out the following tasks: spreading, gathering, and flipping. We produce a final animation by using inverse kinematics to guide a character’s arm and hand to match the motion of the manipulation tool such as a knife or a frying pan.

Transactions of Graphics (SIGGRAPH Asia), 2020