VIMA: General Robot Manipulation with Multimodal Prompts

1NVIDIA, 2Stanford, 3Macalester College, 4Caltech, 5Tsinghua, 6UT Austin
Equal Contribution Equal Advising


Prompt-based learning has emerged as a successful paradigm in natural language processing, where a single general-purpose language model can be instructed to perform any task specified by input prompts. Yet task specification in robotics comes in various forms, such as imitating one-shot demonstrations, following language instructions, and reaching visual goals. They are often considered different tasks and tackled by specialized models. This work shows that we can express a wide spectrum of robot manipulation tasks with multimodal prompts, interleaving textual and visual tokens. We design a transformer-based generalist robot agent, VIMA, that processes these prompts and outputs motor actions autoregressively. To train and evaluate VIMA, we develop a new simulation benchmark with thousands of procedurally-generated tabletop tasks with multimodal prompts, 600K+ expert trajectories for imitation learning, and four levels of evaluation protocol for systematic generalization. VIMA achieves strong scalability in both model capacity and data size. It outperforms prior SOTA methods in the hardest zero-shot generalization setting by up to 2.9x task success rate given the same training data. With 10x less training data, VIMA still performs 2.7x better than the top competing approach.

Multimodal prompts for task specification. We observe that many robot manipulation tasks can be expressed as multimodal prompts that interleave language and image/video frames. We propose VIMA, an embodied agent model capable of processing mulitimodal prompts (left) and controlling a robot arm to solve the task (right).

VIMA: Visuomotor Attention Model

VIMA architecture. We encode the multimodal prompts with a pre-trained T5 model, and condition the robot controller on the prompt through cross-attention layers. The controller is a causal transformer decoder consisting of alternating self and cross attention layers that predicts motor commands conditioned on prompts and interaction history.

VIMA-Bench: Benchmark for Multimodal Robot Learning

We provide 17 representative meta-tasks with multimodal prompt templates, which can be procedurally instantiated into thousands of individual tasks by various combinations of textures and tabletop objects.

Simple Object Manipulation

Visual Goal Reaching

Novel Concept Grounding

One-shot Video Imitation

Visual Constraint Satisfaction

Visual Reasoning


We answer three main questions during experiments:

  • (1) How does VIMA compare with prior SOTA transformer-based agents (Gato, Flamingo, and Decision Transformer) on a diverse collection of multimodal-prompted tasks?
  • (2) What are the scaling properties of our approach in model capacity and data size?
  • (3) How do different visual tokenizers, prompt conditioning, and prompt encoding affect decision making?

Evaluation Results

Scaling model and data. Top: We compare performance of different methods with model sizes ranging from 2M to 200M parameters. Across all model sizes and generalization levels VIMA outperforms prior works. Bottom: For a fixed model size of 92M parameters we compare the effect of imitation learning dataset size of 0.1%, 1%, 10%, and full imitation data. VIMA is extremely sample efficient and can achieve performance comparable to other methods with 10× less data.

Ablation Studies

Ablation on visual tokenizers. We compare the performance of VIMA-200M model across different visual tokenizers. Our proposed object tokens outperform all methods that learn directly from raw pixels, and Object Perceiver that downsamples the object sequence to a fixed number of tokens.

Ablation on prompt conditioning. We compare our method (xattn: cross-attention prompt conditioning) with a vanilla transformer decoder (gpt-decoder) across different model sizes. Cross-attention is especially helpful in low-parameter regime and for harder generalization tasks.


Similar to GPT-3, a generalist robot agent should have an intuitive and expressive interface for human users to convey their intent. In this work, we introduce a novel multimodal prompting formulation that converts diverse robot manipulation tasks into a uniform sequence modeling problem. We propose VIMA, a conceptually simple transformer-based agent capable of solving tasks like visual goal, one-shot video imitation, and novel concept grounding with a single model. VIMA exhibits superior model and data scaling properties, and provides a strong starting point for future work.


  title   = {VIMA: General Robot Manipulation with Multimodal Prompts},
  author  = {Yunfan Jiang and Agrim Gupta and Zichen Zhang and Guanzhi Wang and Yongqiang Dou and Yanjun Chen and Li Fei-Fei and Anima Anandkumar and Yuke Zhu and Linxi Fan},
  year    = {2022},
  journal = {arXiv preprint arXiv: Arxiv-2210.03094}