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Using Parameterized Black-Box Priors to Scale Up Model-Based Policy Search for Robotics

arXiv.org Machine Learning

The most data-efficient algorithms for reinforcement learning in robotics are model-based policy search algorithms, which alternate between learning a dynamical model of the robot and optimizing a policy to maximize the expected return given the model and its uncertainties. Among the few proposed approaches, the recently introduced Black-DROPS algorithm exploits a black-box optimization algorithm to achieve both high data-efficiency and good computation times when several cores are used; nevertheless, like all model-based policy search approaches, Black-DROPS does not scale to high dimensional state/action spaces. In this paper, we introduce a new model learning procedure in Black-DROPS that leverages parameterized black-box priors to (1) scale up to high-dimensional systems, and (2) be robust to large inaccuracies of the prior information. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach with the "pendubot" swing-up task in simulation and with a physical hexapod robot (48D state space, 18D action space) that has to walk forward as fast as possible. The results show that our new algorithm is more data-efficient than previous model-based policy search algorithms (with and without priors) and that it can allow a physical 6-legged robot to learn new gaits in only 16 to 30 seconds of interaction time.


Adaptive Prior Selection for Repertoire-based Online Learning in Robotics

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Among the data-efficient approaches for online adaptation in robotics (meta-learning, model-based reinforcement learning, etc.), repertoire-based learning (1) generates a large and diverse set policies in simulation that acts as a "reservoir" for future adaptations and (2) learns to pick online the best working policies according to the current situation (e.g., a damaged robot, a new object, etc.). Each of these policies performs a different task, for instance, walking in different directions; these policies are then sequenced with a planning algorithm to achieve the given task. In this paper, we relax the assumption of previous works that a single repertoire is enough for adaptation. Instead, we generate repertoires for many different situations (e.g., with a missing leg, on different floors, etc.) in simulation that act as priors for adaptation. Our main contribution is an algorithm, APROL (Adaptive Prior selection for Repertoire-based Online Learning) to plan the next action by incorporating these priors when the robot has no information about the current situation. We evaluate APROL on two simulated tasks: (1) pushing unknown objects of various shapes and sizes with a kuka arm and (2) a goal reaching task with a damaged hexapod robot. We compare with "Reset-free Trial and Error" (RTE) and various single repertoire-based baselines. The results show that APROL solves both tasks in less interaction time than the baselines. Additionally, we demonstrate APROL on a real, damaged hexapod that quickly learns compensatory policies to reach a goal by avoiding obstacle in the path.


Multi-objective Model-based Policy Search for Data-efficient Learning with Sparse Rewards

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

The most data-efficient algorithms for reinforcement learning in robotics are model-based policy search algorithms, which alternate between learning a dynamical model of the robot and optimizing a policy to maximize the expected return given the model and its uncertainties. However, the current algorithms lack an effective exploration strategy to deal with sparse or misleading reward scenarios: if they do not experience any state with a positive reward during the initial random exploration, it is very unlikely to solve the problem. Here, we propose a novel model-based policy search algorithm, Multi-DEX, that leverages a learned dynamical model to efficiently explore the task space and solve tasks with sparse rewards in a few episodes. To achieve this, we frame the policy search problem as a multi-objective, model-based policy optimization problem with three objectives: (1) generate maximally novel state trajectories, (2) maximize the expected return and (3) keep the system in state-space regions for which the model is as accurate as possible. We then optimize these objectives using a Pareto-based multi-objective optimization algorithm. The experiments show that Multi-DEX is able to solve sparse reward scenarios (with a simulated robotic arm) in much lower interaction time than VIME, TRPO, GEP-PG, CMA-ES and Black-DROPS.


Fast Model Identification via Physics Engines for Data-Efficient Policy Search

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

This paper presents a method for identifying mechanical parameters of robots or objects, such as their mass and friction coefficients. Key features are the use of off-the-shelf physics engines and the adaptation of a Bayesian optimization technique towards minimizing the number of real-world experiments needed for model-based reinforcement learning. The proposed framework reproduces in a physics engine experiments performed on a real robot and optimizes the model's mechanical parameters so as to match real-world trajectories. The optimized model is then used for learning a policy in simulation, before real-world deployment. It is well understood, however, that it is hard to exactly reproduce real trajectories in simulation. Moreover, a near-optimal policy can be frequently found with an imperfect model. Therefore, this work proposes a strategy for identifying a model that is just good enough to approximate the value of a locally optimal policy with a certain confidence, instead of wasting effort on identifying the most accurate model. Evaluations, performed both in simulation and on a real robotic manipulation task, indicate that the proposed strategy results in an overall time-efficient, integrated model identification and learning solution, which significantly improves the data-efficiency of existing policy search algorithms.


Reset-free Trial-and-Error Learning for Robot Damage Recovery

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

The high probability of hardware failures prevents many advanced robots (e.g., legged robots) from being confidently deployed in real-world situations (e.g., post-disaster rescue). Instead of attempting to diagnose the failures, robots could adapt by trial-and-error in order to be able to complete their tasks. In this situation, damage recovery can be seen as a Reinforcement Learning (RL) problem. However, the best RL algorithms for robotics require the robot and the environment to be reset to an initial state after each episode, that is, the robot is not learning autonomously. In addition, most of the RL methods for robotics do not scale well with complex robots (e.g., walking robots) and either cannot be used at all or take too long to converge to a solution (e.g., hours of learning). In this paper, we introduce a novel learning algorithm called "Reset-free Trial-and-Error" (RTE) that (1) breaks the complexity by pre-generating hundreds of possible behaviors with a dynamics simulator of the intact robot, and (2) allows complex robots to quickly recover from damage while completing their tasks and taking the environment into account. We evaluate our algorithm on a simulated wheeled robot, a simulated six-legged robot, and a real six-legged walking robot that are damaged in several ways (e.g., a missing leg, a shortened leg, faulty motor, etc.) and whose objective is to reach a sequence of targets in an arena. Our experiments show that the robots can recover most of their locomotion abilities in an environment with obstacles, and without any human intervention.