Collaborating Authors

Generalization through Simulation: Integrating Simulated and Real Data into Deep Reinforcement Learning for Vision-Based Autonomous Flight Machine Learning

Deep reinforcement learning provides a promising approach for vision-based control of real-world robots. However, the generalization of such models depends critically on the quantity and variety of data available for training. This data can be difficult to obtain for some types of robotic systems, such as fragile, small-scale quadrotors. Simulated rendering and physics can provide for much larger datasets, but such data is inherently of lower quality: many of the phenomena that make the real-world autonomous flight problem challenging, such as complex physics and air currents, are modeled poorly or not at all, and the systematic differences between simulation and the real world are typically impossible to eliminate. In this work, we investigate how data from both simulation and the real world can be combined in a hybrid deep reinforcement learning algorithm. Our method uses real-world data to learn about the dynamics of the system, and simulated data to learn a generalizable perception system that can enable the robot to avoid collisions using only a monocular camera. We demonstrate our approach on a real-world nano aerial vehicle collision avoidance task, showing that with only an hour of real-world data, the quadrotor can avoid collisions in new environments with various lighting conditions and geometry. Code, instructions for building the aerial vehicles, and videos of the experiments can be found at

Composable Action-Conditioned Predictors: Flexible Off-Policy Learning for Robot Navigation Artificial Intelligence

A general-purpose intelligent robot must be able to learn autonomously and be able to accomplish multiple tasks in order to be deployed in the real world. However, standard reinforcement learning approaches learn separate task-specific policies and assume the reward function for each task is known a priori. We propose a framework that learns event cues from off-policy data, and can flexibly combine these event cues at test time to accomplish different tasks. These event cue labels are not assumed to be known a priori, but are instead labeled using learned models, such as computer vision detectors, and then `backed up' in time using an action-conditioned predictive model. We show that a simulated robotic car and a real-world RC car can gather data and train fully autonomously without any human-provided labels beyond those needed to train the detectors, and then at test-time be able to accomplish a variety of different tasks. Videos of the experiments and code can be found at

Floyd-Warshall Reinforcement Learning: Learning from Past Experiences to Reach New Goals Machine Learning

Consider mutli-goal tasks that involve static environments and dynamic goals. Examples of such tasks, such as goal-directed navigation and pick-and-place in robotics, abound. Two types of Reinforcement Learning (RL) algorithms are used for such tasks: model-free or model-based. Each of these approaches has limitations. Model-free RL struggles to transfer learned information when the goal location changes, but achieves high asymptotic accuracy in single goal tasks. Model-based RL can transfer learned information to new goal locations by retaining the explicitly learned state-dynamics, but is limited by the fact that small errors in modelling these dynamics accumulate over long-term planning. In this work, we improve upon the limitations of model-free RL in multi-goal domains. We do this by adapting the Floyd-Warshall algorithm for RL and call the adaptation Floyd-Warshall RL (FWRL). The proposed algorithm learns a goal-conditioned action-value function by constraining the value of the optimal path between any two states to be greater than or equal to the value of paths via intermediary states. Experimentally, we show that FWRL is more sample-efficient and learns higher reward strategies in multi-goal tasks as compared to Q-learning, model-based RL and other relevant baselines in a tabular domain.

From proprioception to long-horizon planning in novel environments: A hierarchical RL model Artificial Intelligence

For an intelligent agent to flexibly and efficiently operate in complex environments, they must be able to reason at multiple levels of temporal, spatial, and conceptual abstraction. At the lower levels, the agent must interpret their proprioceptive inputs and control their muscles, and at the higher levels, the agent must select goals and plan how they will achieve those goals. It is clear that each of these types of reasoning is amenable to different types of representations, algorithms, and inputs. In this work, we introduce a simple, three-level hierarchical architecture that reflects these distinctions. The low-level controller operates on the continuous proprioceptive inputs, using model-free learning to acquire useful behaviors. These in turn induce a set of mid-level dynamics, which are learned by the mid-level controller and used for model-predictive control, to select a behavior to activate at each timestep. The high-level controller leverages a discrete, graph representation for goal selection and path planning to specify targets for the mid-level controller. We apply our method to a series of navigation tasks in the Mujoco Ant environment, consistently demonstrating significant improvements in sample-efficiency compared to prior model-free, model-based, and hierarchical RL methods. Finally, as an illustrative example of the advantages of our architecture, we apply our method to a complex maze environment that requires efficient exploration and long-horizon planning.

Combining Optimal Control and Learning for Visual Navigation in Novel Environments Artificial Intelligence

Model-based control is a popular paradigm for robot navigation because it can leverage a known dynamics model to efficiently plan robust robot trajectories. However, it is challenging to use model-based methods in settings where the environment is a priori unknown and can only be observed partially through on-board sensors on the robot. In this work, we address this short-coming by coupling model-based control with learning-based perception. The learning-based perception module produces a series of waypoints that guide the robot to the goal via a collision-free path. These waypoints are used by a model-based planner to generate a smooth and dynamically feasible trajectory that is executed on the physical system using feedback control. Our experiments in simulated real-world cluttered environments and on an actual ground vehicle demonstrate that the proposed approach can reach goal locations more reliably and efficiently in novel, previously-unknown environments as compared to a purely end-to-end learning-based alternative. Our approach is successfully able to exhibit goal-driven behavior without relying on detailed explicit 3D maps of the environment, works well with low frame rates, and generalizes well from simulation to the real world. Videos describing our approach and experiments are available on the project website.